Cyprus eyes rebound from loss of Russian, Ukrainian tourists
KYKKOS MONASTERY, Cyprus (AP) — Archimandrite Agathonikos bows before the silver-covered icon of the Virgin Mary to offer prayers for an end to the war between “peoples of the same religion” in Ukraine. Until the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, hundreds of Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox faithful visiting Cyprus would come daily to venerate the relic. With the war and a European Union ban on Russian flights, the estimated 800,000 Russian and Ukrainian vacationers that head to Cyprus each year for its warm, azure waters and religious history stretching back to the dawn of Christianity are practically down to zero. “We’ve had many worshippers from these two countries fighting today,” Agathonikos said. He is the abbot of Kykkos Monastery on the northeastern ridgeline of Cyprus’ Troodos mountain range, which has been home to the icon for nearly a thousand years. Their absence this year, coming on the back of a steep drop in tourism at the pandemic’s outset, has cut into the revenue of a country whose tourism sector accounts for more than 10% of its economy. Cyprus Deputy Minister for Tourism Savvas Perdios estimates the loss from Russian and Ukrainian visitors will total about 600 million euros ($645 million) this year, with expectations before the war that the number of visitors would be approaching that of 2019. Cyprus is one of the shortest flights from Russia to any Mediterranean holiday destination, but the EU flight ban negated that advantage.
Businesses are hurting, especially local travel agencies that work with big tour operators focusing on the Russian market. An additional burden weighing on hotel owners is high inflation that has cranked up operating costs, he said. Vassos Xidias, proprietor of a seafood tavern bearing his name overlooking the small Ayia Napa harbor, says his business has dropped by as much as 50% this year because of losing the Russian market. Despite the upheaval, officials say that thanks to foresight and planning to find new markets even before Russia invaded Ukraine, Cyprus is projected to make up a sizable chunk of the lost revenue. More vacationers are expected this summer from European markets, including Scandinavian countries, France and Germany, who spend more per day on average than Russians. “Now we are a point of comparison where, you know, a Russian person will be leaving in Cyprus around 60 euros per person per day, whereas other nationalities, around 90 euros,” Perdios says. While there were no direct flights from France to Cyprus two years ago, 20 flights will take off each week this year. Lozides says hotel owners may be reporting fewer bookings than 2019, but higher guest spending is expected to boost revenue.
Both Loizides and Perdios say this optimism is driven by the public’s desire to get away after two years of pandemic lockdowns. “Nothing is going to stop people from traveling this year,” Perdios said. Loizides said hotel owners haven’t given up entirely on bringing Russian tourists this summer. Perdios says his ministry’s revamped tourism strategy has gained traction in European markets as it highlights what Cyprus has to offer beyond sun and surf. That includes vegan-friendly hotels and winery tours through mountainous villages to learn about wines such as Commandaria, winner of the first international wine competition in 1224. “We have done so much work in order to be able to stand before you today and say, ‘Hey, you know what? It’s going to be an OK season. Follow AP’s coverage of the Ukraine war at https://apnews.
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