Cyprus is the third largest of the Mediterranean islands, offering a great variety of coastal and mountain scenery and the heritage of many civilisations. The cultural ties between Greece and Cyprus go back thousands of years, far longer than the periods of Turkish and British rule. This may explain why it is a divided island, occupied by two different ethnic groups –the Greeks and the Turks –separated by language, religion, history and since 1974 by a military/political frontier –the Green Line –which also divides the capital, Nicosia. The Greek-speaking Republic of Cyprus occupies two-thirds of the island, contains 75 per cent of its population, and accounts for perhaps 95 per cent of its tourism industry. The Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (TRNC) on the other hand is not recognised by the international community. The location of Cyprus, only 200 kilometres from Beirut, has meant that tourism is affected not only by the long-running dispute between Greece and Turkey over the island itself, but also by the uncertain political situation in the Middle East. In the 1990/1991 Gulf War, for example, tourism suffered badly.
THE DEMAND FOR TOURISM
INBOUND TOURISM Before Cyprus gained independence from Britain in 1960 few tourists visited the island. In the late 1960s, it was ‘ discovered ’by British tour operators, since Cyprus (along with Gibraltar and Malta) was part of the ‘ sterling area ’and not subject to the strict currency exchange controls imposed by the British government at that time. After the invasion and occupation of the northern part of the island by the Turkish army in 1974, there was a drastic decline in tourist numbers, as most of the hotel stock was destroyed in the confl ict. However, a major investment in tourism facilities in southern Cyprus followed, including the opening of a new airport at Larnaca to replace Nicosia, and the rapid development of Ayia Napa as a resort for the mass market. In the early years of the twenty fi rst century, international tourist arrivals grew to over 2.5 million, four times the Greek Cypriot population of the island. The British inclusive tour market remains important to the island’s tourist industry, using charter fl ights to the airports at Larnaca and Paphos. There are also substantial numbers of independent British visitors travelling to their holiday villas and retirement homes on the island. As is the case in Greece, the Cyprus government discourages seat-only charters.
DOMESTIC TOURISM There is a considerable internal demand for the island’s recreational resources, generated not just by the Cypriots themselves, but also by the United Nations peacekeeping force in Nicosia, and the British armed forces stationed at the Sovereign Base of Akrotiri. THE SUPPLY SIDE OF TOURISM The Republic of Cyprus has a more varied resource base for tourism than the TRNC, supported by a good infrastructure and a considerable stock of accommodation of international standard, although there are relatively few fi rst class hotels to attract the top end of the market. Before the 1974 invasion, Famagusta (Magusa) and Kyrenia (Girne), now in the TRNC, were the major resorts of the island. They are much less popular nowadays, as few Western tour operators are prepared to risk retaliation by the Greek or Greek Cypriot authorities by including the TRNC in their programmes. Nevertheless, the best beaches of Cyprus are in the Turkish-occupied zone, and there is also scope for cultural tourism, as the mountains near Kyrenia contain a number of monasteries and castles dating from the time of the Crusades. Apart from Turkish visitors from the mainland, a small but growing number of British and other West European tourists are attracted to the TRNC, arriving on Turkish Airlines fl ights at Erkan Airport via Istanbul or Izmir. Many of the British visitors have purchased second homes in this part of Cyprus; Greek Cypriots maintain their title to the land is dubious, given the circumstances of the Turkish takeover. ORGANISATION Tourism in the Republic of Cyprus is represented at ministerial level as it is so important to the economy (accounting for over 20 per cent of GDP). This overdependence upon tourism also causes concern regarding the industry’s use of scarce resources and its social and environmental impacts. The Cyprus Tourism Organisation (CTO) has promotion, development and licensing responsibilities. In this respect, the CTO is very concerned about the risks of over-development of the coastline –already evident in resorts such as Limassol and Ayia Napa –and is aiming for high quality, high-spending tourism by upgrading the tourism product. It has successfully promoted the island as an all-year round destination, and as a result the Scandinavian countries and Germany have become important generators of tourism to Cyprus. The CTO is also actively seeking new markets, notably Russia, Israel and the Arab states of the Middle East.
We can summarise the main tourism products of the Republic of Cyprus as follows:
● Beach tourism, based on major resort developments at Paphos, Limassol, Larnaca and Ayia Napa. The trend is to go up-market with the provision of golf courses and yacht marinas, although Ayia Napa is likely to appeal mainly to the mass market, particularly young tourists interested in the vibrant club scene;
● Conferences and incentive travel are catered for by the larger resort hotels and a conference centre in Nicosia;
● Agro-tourism in the rural villages which are being carefully restored to attract visitors to the ‘ traditional Cyprus ’ ;
● Ecotourism, specifi cally birdwatching in the Akamas National Park, the one remaining undeveloped stretch of coastline in the south-west of Cyprus; ● Skiing during the winter months in the pine-covered Troodos Mountains. During the summer, mountain resorts such as Platres continue to be visited by Cypriots escaping the intense summer heat of the plains around Nicosia. There are a number of small country hotels;
● Business tourism in Limassol and Larnaca (which is being positioned as a hub for air services to the Middle East). Tourism in Nicosia is discouraged by the political situation, but the city has nevertheless become an important communications and fi nancial centre for a large part of the Middle East;
● Cultural tourism based on the heritage of Cyprus includes Ancient Greek theatres at Kourion (now used for music festivals) and Amathus; Byzantine monasteries; Crusader castles and Islamic monuments from the Ottoman Empire;
● Cruises to the Greek islands, Israel and Egypt from the port of Limassol. The Republic of Cyprus was admitted to the European Union in 2004, but the future growth of tourism will depend to a large extent on the reunifi cation of the island under a federal system of government with the agreement of Turkey. In the meantime, a limited amount of cross-border traffi c is taking place.
● With the exception of Greece, which has a long tradition of cultural tourism, most countries in the region are comparative latecomers to the industry.
● The heritage of the Ottoman empire is evident in the culinary and architectural resources of most countries in the region.
● Political instability and ethnic strife has been a feature of most countries in the region, partly as a legacy of Ottoman rule.
● Most of these countries have benefi ted from their accessibility to the touristgenerating countries of central and northern Europe and the demand for ‘ sun, sand and sea ’ holidays.
● Travel propensities throughout the region are low, and outbound and domestic tourism are much less signifi cant than incoming tourism.
● The primary resources are the attractive coastal and mountain environments, while the Mediterranean climate of the islands is ideal for recreational tourism. The islands of Greece, Croatia and Cyprus also have a rich cultural heritage, blending south European and Middle Eastern infl uences; however, cultural tourism tends to take second place to beach holidays.
● Cultural attractions include well-preserved archaeological sites, Orthodox monasteries, Crusader castles and music festivals.
● One of the main problems facing tourism is a pronounced summer peak in demand, especially in Greece. Attempts to develop winter tourism have met with little success, with the notable exception of Cyprus.
● The domination of the industry by foreign tour operators makes it diffi cult for local entrepreneurs to respond with new quality products as the markets are price-sensitive.
● After a long period of neglect, there is a growing awareness by the authorities in each country of the need to protect the coastal and mountain environments, as well as the archaeological heritage, from the impacts of mass tourism.