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16-06-2021 12:40

Address by the Minister of Transport, Communications and Works Mr. Yiannis Karousos at the “Tourism Outlook and Opportunities in a challenging environment” conference

It is with great pleasure that I am attending this conference entitled "Tourism Outlook and Opportunities in a challenging environment".  I strongly believe that conferences like thisoneinwhichwe participate today may help, through the exchange of views by the top executives of the field, to achieve a common goal. Ourgoal,which is to boost the tourism industry in a period of crisis.  I am certain that by the end of this conference each keynote speaker will be wiser and will be able to further evaluate, in a positive way, the final conclusions made.  Undoubtedly, thewisdomofmanyisgreaterthanthewisdomofanindividual. And this wisdom can shape economies and businesses in small countries such as Cyprus positively. 

“Why is it important to be optimistic and maintain investment activity”?  Simply because we cannot do otherwise. We do not have the “luxury” to sit back, complain and become idle.  I strongly believe that when a difficulty appears in the foreground, the human mind is clever enough to observe the opportunities that fade in from the background.  In order, though, to be able to distinguish the difficulty from the opportunity, one has to be optimistic, has to be flexible, has to have the will and the courage, has to have the entrepreneur mindset and hasto be able to see ahead so as to forecast both the opportunities and the challenges.

The COVID-19 pandemic shocked and shook, among others, the sector of tourism worldwide.  The governments worldwide had to take drastic measures to protect the health of their population and at the same time ensure the viability of their country’s economies.  Our government was fully aware of the conditions that make up the economy of a country and the way this can be affected by a global pandemic.

Our Government has proved that in difficult times deeds count and this is what we tried to do from the very first moment the coronavirus came to the fore.  We took the necessary measures that restrained the effects of the crisis and at the same time we created the conditions which could enable a gradual recovery of the tourism sector.

From the beginning of the crisis, we were fully aware of the manner a global pandemic, such as the COVID-19, can negatively affect a healthy and sustainable economy, in which the tourism industry plays a vital role.  The aviation sector has been seriously afflicted by this pandemic.   Characteristically, in the first months of 2021, there was a reduction of 60% in flights within and outside the European Union.  2020 was equally difficult for the sector, with a 54% reduction in passenger transport.  From the beginning, our Government was bold enough to take measures aiming, on the one hand, towards the protection of the passengers travelling to and from Cyprus, and on the other hand, minimizing the future negative effects towards the tourism industry. 

As Minister responsible of Transport, from the very moment the pandemic appeared in Cyprus, I realized that I would have to deal with a crisis which could severely affect Cyprus’ connectivity to the outside world.  It was imperative to immediately take those necessary measures which could safeguard Cyprus’ connectivity to the outside world because both the tourism industry and the economy of the country could deteriorate otherwise.  It is widely accepted that, compared to other EU Member States, the management by the Government of the 1st wave of Coronavirus pandemic was successful. Our primary goal was to protect passengers and prevent the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Duetothis, passengers felt confident enough to travel through Cyprus’ airports.  Receiving the trust ofpassengers was the first step to ensure the economy of the country would not be paralyzed.  The success of this goal was achieved by applying different approaches.  What we practically did from the beginning was, among other things, to immediately implement the revised Cyprus Airports Health and Safety Protocols, to simplify the procedures regarding the Covid 19 Test Areas at the airports and toproceed with the new epidemiological categorization of the countries namely Green, Orange and Red.  Finally, we were the first EU country to present the flight pass by applying the Cyprus Flight Pass and we introduced the connectivity temporary incentive scheme. 

In the midst of a pandemic, through the connectivity temporary incentive scheme, we have succeeded in ensuring a continuous flow of passengers to the airports of Cyprus.  The incentive scheme was implemented for the first time on thefirstof July 2020 and was recently renewed by the Council of Ministers to extent until the end of 2021.

The Incentive Plan has been positively assessed as, among others, it has attracted airlines to create a base in Cyprus, “helped” new airlines to include Cyprus in their flight destinations and multiplied travel destinations from where there was little or no connectivity in the past. It is noted that through the Incentive Plan, for the period of July to December 2021, it is expected that the average route occupancy rate will rise to 74%. It is also expected that the 46 airlines which will handle about 880 thousand departing passengers to 110 destinations to be benefited from the Incentive Plan. 

The budget of the Incentive Plan for the period of July to December 2021 amounts to € 8.8 million. It is imperative to mention that when the first Incentive Scheme was completed in December 2020, 32 airlines benefited from the connectivity scheme and the total incentive amount reached € 1,98 million.  In that particular period, the total departing incentivized passengers were only 148,607.

This success was achieved because we faced the crisis straight in the eyes and proceeded with different approaches which, most probably, we would have not done otherwise if the COVID-19 crisis did not appear.  In other words, the crisis created those opportunities, enabled us to see things in a different way and invited us to “invest” creatively.

Considering the severe circumstances we had to deal with, one may say that our efforts were fruitful.  As an example, I would like to mention that at the airports in May 2020, the passenger traffic was only 9.897 whereas a year later, in May 2021, the passenger traffic reached 250,147.  The percentage of the variance between 2020 and 2021 increased positively by 2428%. 

Furthermore, as regards to the passenger traffic in March2021, 46.262 passengers flied to and from Cypriot airports.  In April 2021, passenger traffic increased to 108.030 whereas in May 2021, passenger traffic reached 250.147.  It is interesting to compare these numbers to the 2020 passenger traffic.  In March 2020, when the pandemic appeared to Cyprus the passenger traffic was 231.373, in April 2020, 6.609 and in May 2020, 9.897. 

It is important to mention at this point that despite the fact that some important tourist markets for Cyprus such as the United Kingdom and Russia remain closed, with the above measures taken, we have created new opportunities for tourism by counterbalancing new destinations.

Our efforts yield results and this can be noticed by the arriving flights on a weekly basis.  Specifically, for the week 14-20 June 2021 there will be 410 arriving flights to Larnaka and Pafos airports whereas for the week 21-27 June the arriving flights will be 474, for the week 28 June to 04 July there will be 700 flights, for the week 5-11 July there will be 828 flights, for the week 12-18 July 834 flights, for the week 19-25 July 852 flights and lastly for the week 26 July to August 1st the will be 856 flights.  Having in mind that in a seven-week period of time the arriving flights will be doubled, for us this is an indication that we have efficiently made use of the opportunities which were created by the challenging tourism environment. 

As far as cruise tourism is concerned, there has already been an increase in interest from shipping companies for the inclusion of Cyprus in their cruise ship program. Three of the largest companies specializing in cruise tourism, have informed us that they have included Limassol in their routes, twoofwhich informed us that their cruise ships will be based in the port of Limassol.

Finally, I would like to point out that during the EU Transport Council, which took place two weeks ago in Luxembourg, I presented a Declaration on Air Connectivity, which is an initiative of Cyprus co-signed by eight EU Member States, namely Cyprus, Greece, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, Lithuania, Estonia and Romania.

Considering that the pandemic has created enormous connectivity problems in EU countries that are either islands or are located on the peripheral area of the Union, the Declaration aims to confront the problem by extending beyond theyear the temporary support status of the aviation sector.  Due to its insular nature, Cyprus is perhaps more influenced than any other EU Member State in terms of its connectivity with the other Member States of the Union. I would like to mention that with the Declaration we seek, among other things, the preparation of an interim Action Plan with a time horizon of three years in order to help the sector to recover.

Crises always create opportunities. Having this in mind, our efforts aim towards getting the best result for Cyprus.  The challenges that arose, the preventive actions that were taken, and the opportunities that were created and capitalized on by the Government enabled us today to be optimistic as regards to the handling of this crisis in local tourism.

Undoubtedly, we still have a long road to follow until we return to the normality in which we were in the past.  However, I am optimistic and I believe that by making use of the new opportunities the epidemiological crisis has created, we will eventually not only return to normality but exceed the numbers we used to have before the COVID-19 crisis.

Nothing should be taken as granted.  Succeeding in a period of crisis is not a farfetched dream.  Should one want to succeed in a period of crisis he or she must monitor the opportunities that are created, be creative, be optimistic and react by following the motto “when a door closes, a window always opens”.