20 Nov The bounties of Aphrodite’s birthplace
Cyprus’ glorious sunshine, history, gastronomy, beaches and mountains make it the perfect vacation destination for everyone
Representing about 15% of Cyprus’ economy, tourism has been a pillar of the island’s economy for decades. As Deputy Minister of Tourism Kostas Koumis explains: “There are compelling reasons to visit Cyprus. It boasts a rich heritage going back 11,000 years, over 300 days of sunshine, stunning beaches and a unique opportunity to combine beachside relaxation with mountain exploration.”
COVID-19 had a debilitating impact on a nation that hosted 4 million visitors in 2019 and Cyprus faced an extra challenge once global tourism started to rebound. “Our second-largest market was Russia. At the onset of the war with Ukraine, it became evident we could no longer expect visitors from those countries,” states Koumis. “Despite this, we are performing well this year. Between January and August, our numbers increased by 24.5% compared to 2022, only slightly below 2019’s figure.” The sector remained resilient because it attracted tourists from other markets. Koumis notes that, “In the first eight months of 2023, for example, we welcomed over 35,000 US visitors, a 40% surge on 2022. We anticipate an even greater influx next year and believe the US holds substantial potential for us.” Market diversification has been bolstered by increasing flights, he adds: “As an island nation, robust air connectivity is vital. We have extensive schedules from most European airports and are working to enhance connectivity with Middle Eastern countries.”
Cyprus is also now attracting visitors with more diverse interests, thanks to major investments in infrastructure including ports and marinas, theme parks, resorts and luxury hotels. Philokypros Roussounides, director general of the Cyprus Hotel Association, asserts that, “These large investments will significantly change the market mix”. The country’s traditional draws have centered around its award-winning beaches lapped by clear blue seas, home to an array of marine life and diving sites. Behind those beaches lie spectacular cliffs, pine-scented mountains and salt flats that attract flamingos and other migrating birds in winter. Cyprus’ reputation as a destination has also been driven by its fascinating villages, cosmopolitan cities and wealth of cultural sites. Among its outstanding treasures are prehistoric settlements, Greek temples, the goddess Aphrodite’s birthplace, Roman theaters, early Christian churches, Byzantine monasteries, Crusader castles and Arabic mosques.
Now the country is becoming an increasingly important location for niche visitor interests too. “For example, meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions tourism is a key segment of opportunity, as is nautical tourism,” says Koumis. Roussounides adds that, “Royal Caribbean Group now has cruises that start from Limassol.” Investment in state-of the-art facilities, coupled with the island’s inviting climate and scenery, is also turning the island into a hub for medical, wellness and sports tourism, with the nation playing host to international golf, marathon, cycling and other events, comments Koumis: “Additionally, sporting teams visit Cyprus for training during winter months.”
At the same time, more people are headed to Cyprus for its healthy, fresh Mediterranean cuisine that blends Greek and Middle Eastern influences or its wines that range from the world’s oldest, Commandaria, to modern masterpieces. “Cyprus has a rich culinary tradition that deserves greater recognition given its outstanding quality,” Koumis says. All Cyprus’ diverse attractions can be enjoyed on one vacation, Roussounides reveals: “The country’s small scale means you can be on a beach in the morning, enjoy lunch in a charming village and in the afternoon you can be in the mountains or a vineyard drinking wine. Many of these experiences are available through winter and hotels are investing in their facilities to assist these activities.”
Although the sector is thriving, it faces challenges “spanning from energy costs, inflation and a shortage of staff, which is a problem throughout Europe. I would invite international students to our great universities and colleges to study hotel management. We would be very keen to have them work in our sector,” says Roussounides. The pluses outweight the minuses, however: “More hotel groups are searching for opportunities in Cyprus every year. It’s a promising destination for tourism and hospitality, the return on investment is attractive and the Cypriot authorities are positive about and open to such investments.”