Costas Koumis: Tourism - From stagnation to absolute recovery
With the establishment of the Ministry of Tourism, our country acquires a new and more powerful governing framework of the sector, he noted, speaking to Eurocredit Costas Koumis, Vice President of the Cyprus Tourism Organization. Referring to the National Tourism Strategy, he said it was a powerful tool for pursuing tourism policy in both the short and long term, stressing that the state as a whole should be aligned with the goals and findings of the National Strategy. He also expressed the view that tourism deserves support in order to play a leading role internationally.
Read the interview:
How do you evaluate this year's tourist season?
Personally, I think we are going through a good tourist season, if we take into account that the overall arrivals are generally at the same level as the previous year that left its mark until the year of high performance, and if we take into account that tourism revenues are recording small increase compared to the same period last year.
There have been several reports of declines this year and complaints from industry professionals have been made public. How do you comment on that?
Reduction reports focused on the Russian market, which recorded a decrease of 5%, according to the statistical service for the period January - July compared to the same period last year.
The reality is that the Russian market worried us at some point, around the end of May and the beginning of June, but what matters today is that in terms of arrivals the decline in the Russian market is not as great as the initial estimates were. Of course, we can't ignore the fact that there has been a decrease in the average price of the holiday package.
In addition, I would like to emphasize that the reduction varies from region to region and from business to business, depending on the customer mix that has been established in each case.
I also consider it very important that any comparisons are not made only with the previous year, but over a period of five years or even a decade. I insist that we are going through a good tourist season, considering that our country was attached from 2002 to 2014 to 2.3 to 2.4 million arrivals and now we are talking about 3.7 million which was the performance of 2017. In five years our country has recorded increase beyond 50% compared to 21.6% recorded as a rise in world tourism.
Essentially, we have gone from a period of stagnation to a period of absolute recovery, and the bet now is to stabilize and improve our weaknesses as a tourist country.
Apart from the need for more effective governance of tourism, the strongest presence of our country in the international tourism community is also an issue.
The adoption of the bill for the establishment of the Ministry of Tourism has essentially marked the end of an era for the Cyprus Tourism Organization. What is your view on this important reform?
It is not a question of whether the passage of the relevant bill marks the end of an era for KOT. The point is that our country is gaining a new and more powerful governance framework for tourism. In my opinion, this is a very important reform. After all, it is something that the world of tourism has been looking for for decades and I personally could not understand what was the reasoning or motivation of those who disagreed. Look, nowadays tourism has evolved into a very competitive market, which is running at a very fast pace, influenced by the evolution of technology and the changes in people's habits, something that constantly causes new trends to emerge.
For effective management at the state level, knowledge, continuous market monitoring, and determination and speed in decision-making processes are certainly required. In addition, it is necessary to implement horizontal policies in order for our country to always be competitive and high in the preferences of visitors.
I believe that a politician with knowledge and experience can offer many solutions, taking into account that his specific position offers the institutional right to participate in the governance of the country with his presence in the Council of Ministers. It is useful to remember that in this tourist country called Cyprus, many decisions that are not directly related to tourism can sometimes positively and sometimes negatively affect this sector with the timeless overall contribution to GDP that exceeds 20%.
Equally important is the establishment of the Ministry of Tourism, which strengthens our presence abroad, as it is very different for Cyprus to be represented in international tourism forums with the Deputy Minister of Tourism, the person in charge, in contrast to the current was represented by CTO officials or by members of the Board. of the organism.
In my opinion, Cyprus, as a country with a 47-year history of intense tourism, should not only participate but also play a leading role in the international tourism community, in all these conferences or forums, something that has not been allowed by the structure so far. tourism management system.
Let's see what other countries do, for example. Greek Deputy Minister of Tourism Elena Kountoura congratulated and deserves to be elected in 2017 to the Executive Board of the World Tourism Organization, a position that strengthens Greece's position in global tourism developments, a position that gave Greece the right to be head of the OECD Summit on Tourism last October in Paris.
So, in addition to the need for more effective governance of tourism, the strongest presence of our country in the international tourism community is also an issue.
The National Tourism Strategy was presented by the Government last year. What is your view on this infamous strategy?
The National Tourism Strategy is a powerful tool for the pursuit of tourism policy both short-term and long-term. Scholars have recorded both the strong characteristics of our country as a tourist destination and its weaknesses. The guiding principles have been agreed, a strategic agenda for change and reform has been drawn up and, of course, a strategic goal has been set.
What has been agreed as a guideline and what is the strategic goal of the study?
The basic principles agreed upon are to make Cyprus a 'premium' destination all year round, to give more importance to cultural heritage and the natural environment, to place special emphasis on special products, to support investments that will help reduce seasonality, and to develop methods of optimizing the 'multiplier effect' of tourism in the local economy. The strategic goal set by the researchers is to make Cyprus a full-time, sustainable destination with 4.8 million tourists, 40% of whom will visit Cyprus in the period November - April 2030.
Do you think that these goals can be achieved?
Undoubtedly yes, but hard work is required at all levels. The state as a whole should be aligned with the goals and findings of the National Strategy.
You often make references to technology. Does it really play such an important role in tourism today?
Of course. A 2017 survey found that 48% of Britons book their vacations via smartphones, another survey showed that technology and wellness services are the first issue for millennials when choosing a place to stay.
I will mention for example that in the ITB of 2019 there will be a separate department of technology, tour and activities for the first time.
Activity tourism is also a very important trend which, according to Phocuswright, now accounts for 10% of the global travel market.
Our country has established itself in the international tourist market as a destination for sun and sea. Many argue that we must disengage from this model. What is your opinion?
It is commonly accepted that our country has climbed the international tourist market thanks to the quality of our coasts. It is also something that is proven by the history of tourism in our place, but also by the occasional research. A 2015 survey by Hermes Airports found that 95% of visitors chose Cyprus because of the sun and sea, while the same survey showed that 90% of visitors had sun and sea enjoyment during their stay.
In the National Tourism Strategy, it is explicitly and clearly stated that the sun and our shores were the driving force behind the development of tourism in our country. It is not a matter of disengagement from one model to another. It is a matter of coexistence and parallel projection.
Personally, I think we have a lot of room for improvement for both the beaches and the beach resorts in general. The National Tourism Strategy lists comparisons between our coasts and the coasts of other countries.
I insist that we still have a long way to go, both in terms of beach policy and in terms of beach resorts. There are some weaknesses that can be seen with the naked eye. Let's not rest as the holders of the world record for most blue flags per inhabitant.
The special forms of tourism? Can we expect more in the coming years?
Generally speaking, I would like to emphasize that special forms of tourism require specialized management and dedication. Personally, I believe that we should prioritize our priorities. We can not become protagonists in all special forms of tourism. In some cases there is a huge prospect and in some not. It is also a matter of characteristics of our own country, it is also a matter of infrastructure. I believe, for example, that we can become much more competitive in sports tourism. What is required is an investment in infrastructure. In many sports we are unable to claim international sporting events due to the fact that our stadiums do not meet international standards. For years it was a mistake. Expenditures were made without taking into account the needs and perspective of sports tourism. This is precisely why the presence of tourism in all decision-making centers is required. In any case, I believe that sports tourism is an area that we need to invest more, such as diving tourism, conference tourism, religious tourism, wedding tourism, medical tourism, etc.
Are you generally satisfied with the level of competitiveness of tourism in our country?
I am pleased that we are experiencing this rise in recent years. In terms of competitiveness, it depends on what point of view we look at it. If we take into account that 42% of our country's visitors, as a 2015 survey showed, were repeaters, it means that our product satisfies visitors and is competitive. If we look at the issue more strictly at the infrastructure level, I think that in recent years we have improved a lot in the category of tourist infrastructure and we have become more competitive. In the category of supportive infrastructure, however, I believe that there are pathological deficiencies resulting from decades of mistakes and omissions, and that requires hard work, planning and coordination among all stakeholders.
But I am optimistic that the implementation of the National Tourism Strategy will erase or mitigate the individual weaknesses and make our country even more competitive.
It is important for all of us to realize that tourism is the backbone of our economy, and it deserves support in order to play a leading role internationally.