THE Mediterranean island of Cyprus, being marketed as the region’s Golden Apple, is well known for its leisure tourism, however the government is keen to boost its trade with the rest of the world and raise the island’s profile as a meetings and exhibitions venue at the crossroads of three continents; a sports and sports training destination; a place of learning; and an opportunity for inward investment.
The European Union (which Cyprus joined in 2004) is the island’s main trading partner, but both the government and private sectors are working to develop its markets in other areas, including the GCC and wider Middle East. Cyprus is looking not just to export more products, but to offer its services and enter into joint ventures.
In early July, Cyprus found itself with another, and totally unexpected, role: as a temporary haven for those evacuated from Lebanon when Israel began its military strikes against the country. Some travellers heading for Beirut were diverted to the island’s main airport in Larnaca, while the Cypriot government also despatched a plane to Damascus for the emergency evacuation of 104 Cypriots and other nationals who had escaped from Lebanon by road. Foreign Ministry director general Sotos Zakhaeos said that the passengers were mostly Cypriots, but also included British French and Czech citizens, adding that Cyprus was willing to evacuate other Europeans if needed.
Once known just for its summer tourism, Cyprus is now developing a four-seasonal market and is becoming an increasingly important MICE venue. Prior to the Athens Olympics in 2004, Cyprus hosted numerous international teams for sports training camps and its extensive facilities, coupled with its ideal climatic conditions, make it an attractive year-round training destination. A number of short Mediterranean cruises also depart from, or call in at, the island’s main port of Limassol.
Cyprus is currently on track with its Strategic Plan for Tourism 2010 which aims at introducing sustainability to tourism development by focussing on two aspects: culture and the environment. The overall target is to double total revenue from tourism to 1.8 billion Cyprus pounds or $3.96 billlion (in constant 1998 prices) by the year 2010 by offering quality and value for money to visitors. And to achieve a modest 3.5 per cent per annum increase in arrivals to reach 3.5 million in the same year.
The implementation of the plan, according to government officials, enables the “repositioning of Cyprus in the global tourist arena as a mosaic of nature and culture, a whole magical world concentrated in a small warm and hospitable island in the Mediterranean at the crossroads of three continents and offering a multi-dimensional qualitative tourist experience.”
The EU accounted for 83.3 per cent of tourist arrivals in 2003, and 58.5 per cent of arrivals were actually from the UK. Germany, Greece, Russia and Sweden made up the next largest markets.
The development of Agrotourism under the banner ‘Green Cyprus’ began in the early 1990s, promoted and administered by the Cyprus Tourism Organisation (CTO). Designed to restore traditional houses, restaurants, cultural and handicraft centres for tourist use, it was given a further boost with EU accession in 2004 when the whole of the island’s hinterland was declared a ‘Target 2’ area and a new financial assistance scheme was introduced aimed at the development of small and medium-sized enterprises related to agrotourism. Online booking of accommodation covered by the scheme is available at agrotourism.com.cy, and available properties are featured in the CTO’s Traditional Homes Guide.
Clearly defined Nature Trails signposted with information on flora and fauna, promoted and annotated in special brochures, cover more than 250 kilometres. Thematic trails have also been introduced such as mediaeval bridges, centenarian trees, waterfalls or traditional village activities. Similar information is available for cycling trails and other special-focus itineraries. The CTO does an excellent job in producing a vast range of free literature and also making it readily available on line and in hard copy through CTO offices in Cyprus and abroad.
Cyprus is rich historically and archaeologically and numerous excavated sites and museum collections showcase its past. The first signs of civilisation go back to the ninth millennium BC but many famous remains are dated to the time of the ancient Greeks. Although predominantly Christian, the island has a varied cultural heritage. There was a sporadic Islamic presence on the island from 643-965AD, but the Ottoman conquest and rule, from 1571-1878 really introduced Islam to Cyprus. The Association of Cypriot Archaeologists has produced an attractive and informative book, Muslim Places of Worship in Cyprus, documenting the history of Islam on the island with details of ancient and modern mosques still standing. For Muslim visitors, one of the most important sites is that of Hala Sultan Tekke on the shores of the Salt Lake in Larnaca. The mosque, mausoleum, minaret and original living quarters fro men and women is revered as the burial site of Umm Haram (the Ottoman Turkish Hala Sultan translates as revered aunt), believed to be a revered travelling companion of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH).
The Cypriot Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism says that the last two decades have seen the gradual transformation of Cyprus into a reputable international business and financial centre, attracting foreign investment because of its strategic geographical location; a stable business environment; macroeconomic stability, reflected in stable prices and currency; a favourable tax regime; the availability of a well-educated, highly skilled and flexible labour force; a very competitive level of wages and other costs; the island’s simple administrative procedures; its well developed commercial infrastructure; and easy access to international markets.
It is definitely a destination of growing importance for business and leisure travellers and, after years of experience in the tourism sector, very ‘user-friendly’ for overseas visitors. An attractive and hospitable destination that welcomes many return visitors.