By Nicos A. Rolandis
Special to the Hellenic News of America
When I took over the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism in March 1998, I pursued two important subjects amongst many other: Oil and gas on the one hand and tourism on the other.
I started off with the oil and gas reserves issue in 1998. After a great lot of effort and many contacts with a number of Governments, we ended up with the delineation of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Cyprus and the signature of the historic Agreement for the delimitation of the EEZ of Cyprus and Egypt. The Agreement was signed in Cairo on the 17th February 2003 by myself and the Foreign Minister of Egypt Ahmed Maher. It was the first EEZ Agreement signed in the Mediterranean.
In the field of tourism we established a close and methodical cooperation between the Ministry, the Cyprus Tourism Organisation (CTO) and the tourism and hoteliers associations, PASYXE, STEK, ACTA, PASYDIXE and other organisations.
I attended personally most of the tourist fairs abroad and in Cyprus and I had meetings with the leaders of the tour operators. In Cyprus we promoted a number of activities to enhance tourism. Between 1998 and 2002 we drafted and implemented the Strategic Plan of Tourism and the Twelve-point Plan for tourism. These two plans embodied the quintessence of the Cyprus tourism. Amongst other activities we proceeded with the following:
- Marinas: The legislation on marinas was pending since 1985. We had the bill enacted into law, we went through the various procedures and we proclaimed tenders in 2002. Nowadays, 12 years on, with the exception of Limassol, all other marinas – Paphos, Larnaca, Ayia Napa, Protaras – are still pending.
- Theme parks: We increased them from 4 to 12.
- Culture: We funded 350 events in 5 years.
- Golf courses: We promoted up to 8 golf courses and inaugurated Aphrodite Hills.
- Miss Universe: We organised with CBS, the biggest US TV network, the largest international event ever hosted in Cyprus. It was shown, amongst other things, on television in 131 countries and promoted Cyprus’ tourism.
- Football pitches: We increased them from 25 to 46.
- Agrotourism: In five years we increased the beds from 294 to 550.
- Conference tourism: We promoted it very strongly, reaching a great number of conferences per year.
- Winter tourism: We took measures to limit the seasonality effects.
- Athletic tourism, including the international Motor Rally which we funded every year.
- Paphos opera festival: We promoted and supported it since 1998 with a government subsidy of £270,000 per year.
- Tourist legislation. It was completed between 1998 and 2002 and it was enacted and enforced.
(Source: Ministry publications).
The results were impressive: Tourism arrivals between 1998-2001 shot up by 29.2% from 2,088,000 tourists in 1997 to 2,697,000 tourists in 2001 (international tourism went up by 6%).
Most importantly, tourism revenues skyrocketed by 51.2% from £843 m (€1440 m) in 1997 to £1270 m (€2170 m) in 2001 (international revenues increased by 13.4%).
In 2001 until August we had an increase of 5% in arrivals and 8% in revenues. However the 11th of September hit both us and international tourism and kept our results in 2001 to the 2000 levels.
I remember the upwards move of tourism was so fast that at the tourist fairs, the chairman and the general manager of PASYXE Avgerinos Nikitas and Zacharias Ioannides were faced with difficulties, because the hotel beds were not sufficient any more and many hotels resorted to “stop sales”. That was the time when we decided to increase the hotel beds from 100.000 to 120.000.
In 2002 Cyprus and other markets moved downwards because of 9/11. However the tragic developments for Cyprus happened in the years that followed. Whilst all other markets gradually went up and achieved a vertical increase, Cyprus, despite the surge of Russian tourism, where numbers increased gradually by 500,000, remained until today stuck at levels below those of 2001, both in tourist numbers and revenues. In other words if we did not have the increase of the Russian tourists, we would have today 2 million tourists, compared to 2.7 million in 2000!
The following are the tourist arrivals of Cyprus, of world tourism and of other countries in our area for the period 2000-2013 (source: World Tourism Organisation)
Cyprus: minus 10%
World tourism: plus 60%
Mediterranean: plus 50%
Greece: plus 40%
Egypt: plus 80%
Croatia: plus 110%
Bulgaria: plus 150%
Turkey: plus 290%
Tourism revenues from 2000 to 2013 had approximately proportional increases/decreases. Ours went down by 5% from €2,170,000 in 2000 to €2,070,000 in 2013.
Had Cyprus followed world tourism, our tourist arrivals in 2013 would have been 4.3 m. tourists (instead of the actual 2.5 m.) and revenues would have hit €3,470,000 (instead of €2,070,000, actual). We had a loss of €1,400,000 in a single year!
Many tourism leaders voiced their agony and concern over the past 13 years. They all referred to “an unending collapse of tourism”, “a sad mosaic” a “declining course”, “serious deadlocks and adventures of tourism”. After all, figures speak of themselves.
What is the remedy? I believe that the competent Minister must appoint a high level Committee which should, with the assistance of the CTO, within a period of three months, recommend the measures which must be taken in the light of the tourism disaster. Of course I do not mean that the committee should come up with one of the usual reports, which are rotting in the basements of the Ministries. The Committee should recommend the “guidelines of action”, the implementation of which the Minister must follow up on a daily basis. When I was at the Ministry I had on my desk dozens of such “guidelines”.
I estimate, based on the above data, that we must have lost cumulatively €9 billion over the past 13 years. Part of this amount would have flown into the public coffers and the balance into the private sector.
In such a case we would probably not need the troika today, which has displaced the President of the Republic from his “throne”, has squeezed itself into the House of Representatives as well, and it decides in advance, without our participation, about us, our economy, our culture, our lives and the lives of our children.