Covid-19 may have peaked in Cyprus and current restrictions could soon start to be eased. As the summer season is normally underway, it’s more than welcome news for all those working in the tourism sector, from a 5-Star luxury boutique hotel to an airport taxi, restaurant, bar and many more.
The Ministry of Tourism says that Cyprus could allow tourists back onto the island by July, including those from countries with some of the highest number of annual visitors to Cyprus, such as Russia, Germany, Israel and Greece. The Ministry also indicated that they may also allow visitors from Britain but “hope to know in a few weeks”.
Gateway between Europe, Asia and Africa
With just over 800 cases of Covid-19 currently confirmed at the time of writing this post, Cyprus has managed to avoid the devastating high number of casualties suffered in many other parts of the world. Although the flight ban is set to remain in place until May 17, the government announcement is just ahead of the peak tourist season – June through to September – when more than 75 per cent of annual visitors (around half a million people) normally arrive each month.
Despite measuring 240 kilometres (149 ml), end to end, and 100 kilometres (62 ml) at its widest point, Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean Sea (following the Italian islands of Sicily and Sardinia), and often referred to as the “jewel of the Mediterranean”. Ever since a form of early writing was invented and trade with other parts of the Mediterranean world flourished around 3,500 years ago, Cyprus has always claimed her role as a “gateway” between Europe, Asia and Africa.
In the modern era, the establishment of the Cyprus Tourist Organisation in 1970, followed by the island’s “economic miracle”, saw visitor numbers surge from 250,000 in 1974 to 1,500,00 in 1990. Then Cyprus joined the EU in 2004, achieving a record breaking 3.93 million visitors in 2018 and hitting 3.97 in 2019 (Cystat).
Cyprus ranks 3rd worldwide in its focus on travel and tourism
It’s no surprise that Cyprus now ranks 3rd worldwide in its focus on travel and tourism with the majority of tourist arrivals originating from five main countries, Britain, Russia, Israel, Germany and Greece. Currently, one in three tourists (33 per cent) are from the UK, followed by Russia with one in five (20 per cent), Israel (6 per cent), Germany and Greece (5 per cent). Cyprus is also increasingly recognised as an all year round destination.
So much so that in November 2019 – just prior to news of the coronavirus outbreak in Asia – a new record for tourist arrivals was set for that month by tourists from the UK – up by more than 10 per cent, Russia (9 per cent) and Israel (6 per cent). Two years earlier, a survey collecting data from six different sources found that more than three in five (60 per cent) of respondents considered Cyprus as an all year-round destination (Cyprus Tourism Strategy Report, 2017).
It’s no accident that countries like UK, Russia, Germany, Israel (and of course, Greece) have become the mainstay of tourist visitors to Cyprus – between 33,000 (Israel) and 165,000 (UK) in June 2019 – compared to the next high numbers. Between 7,000 –13,000 visitors arrived from Sweden, Norway, Ukraine, Lebanon and the US during the same peak month of the summer season.
Long historical links with Cyprus
Looking first at the UK – apart from English widely spoken and the continued presence of RAF bases at Akrotiri and Dhekelia, Britain has long historical links with Cyprus dating back to the colonial era. Cyprus was part of the British Empire, under military occupation from 1914–1925 and a Crown colony from 1925 until gaining independence on 16 August 1960. Just four days later, the Federal Republic of Germany established diplomatic relations with Cyprus, which today, is considered one of the closest in the European Union.
The relationship with Russia can be traced as far back as the 14th century and, more recently, via the exporting of agricultural products and importing military equipment to Russia during the Soviet era. From the late 1990s, the relationship grew ever closer when the Russian community began migrating to Cyprus in significant numbers and as investment opportunities started to be developed.
Around 50,000 people from Russia and the former Soviet republic have made Cyprus their permanent home, of which, around three quarters are resident in Limassol. They are also the second largest number of tourists to visit the island every year – 117,000 in June 2019, compared to 24,000 in June 2009 (Cystat). Today, highly acclaimed Russian cultural events are regularly staged in Cyprus, including the annual Cyprus Russia Festival at Limassol Gardens and the prestigious Cyprus-Russia Gala at the Presidential Palace, Nicosia.
Cyprus tourist sector cannot be denied for too long
More recently, Cyprus has forged closer links with Israel, collaborating extensively on large scale energy projects, including, joint use of oil and gas fields off Cyprus, as well as EuroAsia Interconnector, the world’s longest underwater, electric power cable. Cultural exchange continues to grow with many Israeli artists, musicians, theatre groups, filmmakers and other creatives frequently performing or exhibiting their work across Cyprus.
The richness and diversity of the Cyprus tourist sector cannot be denied for too long! Its enduring power as a driving force of cultural and economic life will be sure to bounce back as restrictions start to ease, temperatures rise and visitors return to enjoy sunny Cyprus, albeit with social distancing for the time being.