Cyprus sets stage for tourism recovery as airports reopen

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Tourist numbers to Cyprus are expected to fall by up to 70 percent this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. (AFP)
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A mask-clad passenger queues at Larnaca International Airport. (AFP)
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Updated 07 June 2020

Cyprus sets stage for tourism recovery as airports reopen

  • Mediterranean holiday island tempts visitors with bold hospitality package that includes medical care

NICOSIA: Cyprus will reopen for international tourism on Tuesday, with airports welcoming visitors after an almost three-month shutdown, and a bold plan to cover health-care costs for visitors.

But with arrivals expected to be down by 70 percent this year due to the chaos brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s a leap of faith for the small Mediterranean holiday island.

“Nobody here is expecting to make any money this year,” Deputy Tourism Minister Savvas Perdios said. “We are setting the stage for the beginning of our recovery in 2021.”

The divided island’s tourism sector normally accounts for around 15 percent of gross domestic product, but has dried up in past months amid global measures to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Cyprus saw a record 3.97 million arrivals in 2019, with more than half its market made up of British and Russian visitors.

But even if the island’s airports in Larnaca and Paphos open up to arrivals on Tuesday, with the first flight due to arrive from Athens around noon, neither Britain or Russia are among the 19 countries allowed to land there.

The list of permitted countries, which also include Bulgaria, Germany and Malta, have been chosen based on epidemiological data and split into two categories.

Initially all travellers will need to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test undertaken within 72 hours of travel, but from June 20, only those arriving from six countries in the second category, such as Poland and Romania, will need to do so.

The government says the lists will be revised weekly and more countries can be added.

Cyprus will also cover accommodation, dining and medical care for any tourists who fall ill with the COVID-19 illness during their stay, as well as accommodation and meals for their families and close contacts.

“What we offer and what we sell is not the sun and the sea, it’s hospitality, and this is an extension of our hospitality,” Perdios said.

The government has designated a 100-bed COVID-19 hospital for tourists that Perdios said would be located in the Larnaca region, while 112 ICU units have been allocated for visitors.

Perdios said several four-star hotels would provide 500 quarantine rooms for close contacts of those who fall ill.

A raft of other health measures, including disinfection protocols and temperature checks at border controls, aim to protect travellers and locals alike.

“We’ve gone to big lengths to think ahead of things that could go wrong and try to devise plan Bs and Cs”, Perdios said.

The Republic of Cyprus, in the south of the island, has registered 960 novel coronavirus cases and 17 deaths.

Perdios expressed hope that British tourists could be welcomed “sometime after mid-July”, with Russia “slightly later, maybe by a couple of weeks.”

A recently announced deal with Hungarian low-cost carrier Wizz Air to open a base in Cyprus from July was also an important step towards expanding and diversifying the island’s tourist markets, he said.

While no date has been set to allow international tourists to visit the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, only recognised by Ankara, the health-care commitment would still apply to those visiting the north during their stay once the crossings are reopened.

“I am very confident that not only will we be able to continue providing our citizens with protection, but also caring for everybody who comes to the island on holiday”, he said.

“If we are coming out with a scheme like this, it’s because we can afford it, but most importantly, because we feel that it’s the right thing to do.”


Ski resorts out in the cold as France eases lockdown

Updated 27 November 2020

Ski resorts out in the cold as France eases lockdown

  • Frustrated resort operators count the cost of holiday season restrictions

MEGEVE, France:  Megeve, in the foothills of Mont Blanc, was gearing up to welcome back skiers before Christmas after a COVID-19 lockdown was eased.

But France’s government — while allowing cinemas, museums and theaters to reopen from Dec. 15 — says its ski slopes must stay off limits until 2021, leaving those who make their living in the Alpine village frustrated and, in some cases, perplexed.

“When you’re outside, when you’re doing sport outdoors, that’s not the moment when you’re going to give COVID-19 to someone. COVID-19 is passed on in enclosed places,” said Pierre de Monvallier, director of ski school Oxygene, which operates in several resorts including Megeve.

Announcing a phased easing of the lockdown on Tuesday, French President Emmanuel Macron said it was “impossible to envisage” re-opening ski slopes for Christmas and New Year, and that he preferred instead to do so during January.

“It felt like the door had been slammed in our face,” said Catherine Jullien-Breches, the mayor of Megeve, whose green slopes are generally covered with snow by mid-December.

“Unfortunately it’s a real drama for the economies of the villages and the winter sports resorts.”

People who live within 20 km of France’s Alpine resorts will able to visit from this weekend, but with the lifts staying shut, the main draw is missing.

“It’s like going on holiday on the Cote d’Azur and being told the sea is off limits,” said David Le Scouarnec, co-owner of Megeve’s Cafe 2 la Poste.

The problem for the resorts — and the hotels, restaurants, and workers who depend on them for their livelihood — is that their season is short, and they will have little time after the New Year to claw back lost revenue.

Other European authorities are wrestling with the same problem. Italy’s resorts regions are seeking approval for restricted skiing, but Austria, whose biggest cluster of the first wave of the pandemic was at the ski resort of Ischgl — where thousands were infected — is skeptical.

Prevarication cuts little ice, however, with Mathieu Dechavanne, Chairman and CEO of Compagnie du Mont-Blanc, which operates cable cars at Megeve and other resorts.

He said who could not understand why the government allowed trains and metros to operate, but barred him from re-opening. “It’s like we’re being punished. We don’t deserve this. We’re ready.”