Coronavirus casts shadow over Cyprus tourism

Despite getting off to a good start, the novel coronavirus outbreak may endanger the Cyprus tourist season before it even begins, claim hoteliers.

As the virus gets a grip of countries from which Cyprus receives a large number of tourists such as its largest market Britain and Germany – travellers are cancelling their spring holidays.

Hotels have seen a drop in reservations over recent days, which is linked with coronavirus, hoteliers said.

They are also concerned over airlines cancelling flights to coronavirus-struck areas such as Italy while Israel’s El-Al has stopped flights to Cyprus.

Budget airlines Ryanair and Easyjet announced that they are reducing flights to Italy as a first measure after the coronavirus outbreak without specifying in which countries they would also cutback flights and frequency to other destinations.

Confirming the slowdown in reservations, Deputy Tourism Minister Savvas Perdios told CyBC radio: “The flow of reservations until the end of February was impressive…we have started the year with very good omens, not just from Germany but also from the British market despite Brexit.

But in recent days, clearly due to coronavirus the rate of reservations has dropped.”

He believes a slowdown will continue in the coming weeks. “March will not be an easy month.”

Perdios said it takes “great strength to remain level-headed,” and his Deputy Ministry is trying to see the positive side of things such as the fact Cyprus “will be affected less than others.”

“I wish to assure everyone that the Deputy Ministry will continue to closely monitor the situation.”

The Deputy Minister went to Berlin to meet tour operators despite the key tourist expo ITB being cancelled due to coronavirus.

Cyprus recorded another record year in 2019 with just shy of 4 million tourists visiting the island.

Local hoteliers are awaiting information from tour operators to form a clear picture of what to expect in the coming months.

There will be tears

In comments to news website Stockwatch, chair of the Hoteliers Association in Paphos Thanos Michaelides said: “If the virus is not contained, we will weep”.

Michaelides noted that hoteliers were prepared for a rough ride in 2020 but are particularly concerned over the situation created with the coronavirus as they have no way of predicting what to expect.

“Bookings in Paphos hotels before the virus started spreading rapidly, were already reduced for March, April, May and in June, while the low number of bookings in January and February led the majority of hotels to decide to close down for the winter”.

He said low bookings will put pressure on hoteliers to bring down prices which in combination with an increase in expenses will put hotels in a tight spot.

Chairman of Famagusta hoteliers Doros Takkas said that March was a key month for them, especially for bookings from the Russian market, since this was the month when most reservations were made.

He said reservations have slowed to an alarming degree, especially from Russia, as it appeared people were reluctant to book holidays due to the spread of Covid-19.

The same goes for the British market.

“Tour operators are asking hoteliers for generous offers to attract people.”

Takkas said that hoteliers are doing their best to offer more attractive packages, noting, however, that “we are not certain if this can reverse the current situation.”

He said people were concerned and did not book holidays because they did not know how the virus would progress.

“It is important that so far we have not had a Covid-19 case in Cyprus but the situation in countries from which people travel to our island is negative.”

Hoteliers are planning to meet next week to look into ways to tackle the problem.

Larnaca hoteliers’ boss Ioanna Florentiadou said although the town’s hotels have not seen any cancellations, like in the island’s other regions, they are concerned about how things will change in the future.

“The next two weeks will be decisive, if the problem is reduced, at least we will be able to operate.”

Limassol hoteliers’ chief chair Charis Theocharous confirmed that the town’s hotels have seen their share of cancellations as uncertainty prevails.

“This is a problem facing the whole of humanity, for which we cannot do anything,” said Theocharous.

He said the biggest problem facing Limassol hotels is the cancellation of seminars and conferences.

Meanwhile, the Association of Cyprus Travel Agents (ACTA) has warned the public that most airlines and hotels will not give refunds if a traveller changes plans due to coronavirus.

ACTA said airlines have announced changes in reservations policy due to the spread of the virus “with most not refunding any money and also charging for potential changes in dates.”

“The majority of hotels refuse to return deposits or even full payment, making it impossible for us to return money to our clients.”

The same applies to group trips, with the cost of cancellation being transferred to the customer, said ACTA.