Our country is now officially a member of the great European family. We are part of a family which has greatly raised the bar regarding the quality both of our lives and of the services we offer. We are therefore called upon to tackle this new situation with courage and boldness, ready to make radical changes and improvements with the ultimate aim of complying fully with EU requirements.
The product which has supported our economy and contributed most to our EU accession, the product which has been aptly described as the goose that lays the golden eggs, in unfortunately in danger from phenomena of amateurism that lower the levels of the quality that is offered by the tourist product.
Living as I do in an area that supports the tourism industry of our country, I cannot remain indifferent and close my eyes to the wrong-doings and irrational goings-on, closing my ears to the messages and demands of the new realities, and for that reason, as an active citizen, I am deeply concerned about the future of the tourism industry, both in my area and the country as a whole, and am setting down my thoughts and concerns below.
Tourism, my dear friends, is a very sensitive product and unfortunately, we here at Paralimni – from the local authorities to the citizen of the municipality, have not given it enough attention and the result is that now extremely serious problems are arising in our tourist area. The situation is tragic. Certain authorities are hiding the truth. I will explain what I mean: if our tourist area continues to develop at the current rate, the result will be that we will become refugees in our own properties that our forefathers have left us. My dear fellow citizens, I tell you this with a heavy heart, but it is the reality. You will see for yourselves when you read the rest of this article that Paralimni Municipality had NO VISION FOR TOURISM OR ANY RATIONAL PROGRAMME to present with a view to solving the problems of tourism in the Protaras area.
I wish to say from the outset that I am making a personal effort, at my own initiative alone, to inform my fellow citizens about the problems of our beautiful tourist region, and to make suggestions for solutions to the above problems. I believe that my 25-year professional career in tourism has given me both the knowledge and the right to make suggestions, to react and to act. I feel a great sense of responsibility to the land of my birth, the land that raised me, the land that our fathers have passed on to us, the land we will pass on to our children. I have therefore thought deeply about all the matters I will put before you and I will not hide from you the fact that over the last few months I have thought long and hard about what I will say here and how to say it, in order to avoid coming into conflict with the well-meant criticism I intend to make later on.
My plea is that everyone, local authorities, local political party committees, organised groups, every last citizen of the beautiful Municipality of Paralimni, within the framework of the European Community, should try and find suitable ways of communication, and through democratic dialogue we should solve the problems not only of tourism but also of the local society here in Paralimni, because, in my humble opinion, if we do not take the right, well-thought out decisions without delay, we will not be able to predict what will happen in the future.
I will now go on to set down the problems that have presented themselves over time since 1988 and which continue to the present day. Problems about whose solutions I have made repeated suggestions. Suggestions which unfortunately continue to be highly topical since for most of the issues no steps forward have been made, but only steps backwards, although other suggestions that I made years ago are beginning to be adopted by Members of the House of Representatives, tourism officials, organised tourism organisations and a large number of my suggestions have been included in the Strategic Tourism Development Plan which was proposed by the CTO in 2004 and vindicated me fully.
1. The continuous building of hotel complexes without proper planning has resulted in empty beds in the hotel units. This leads to a need for Feasibilities Studies which must include MARKET RESEARCH, PLANNING, ANALYSIS OF COMPETITORS, MARKET ANALYSIS – DEMOGRAPHIC DATA AND ECONOMIC ANALYSIS with regard to whether it is feasible to build a hotel or not. My personal view is that the construction of new hotels in Protaras should stop.
2. The continued construction of non-organised apartments creates major problems in the attraction of QUALITY TOURISM to the attractive Protaras area. The building of such apartments has led to the attraction of mass tourism that has been a scourge for Protaras and the island as a whole. In addition, these apartments do not offer satisfactory services to the tourists who often leave the island dissatisfied. For this reason this policy on the part of both the local authorities and the competent state services must cease immediately as it will eventually turn into a boomerang for tourism.
3. All other investments, e.g. RESTAURANTS, PUBS, SOUVENIR SHOPS, ETC ARE NOT MADE WITH RATIONAL PLANNING and are still being undertaken thoughtlessly in Protaras because the appropriate tourist infrastructure for the future does not exist. I regret to observe that all investments have been made for commercial purposes without taking into account the needs and requirements of tourist flows to Protaras. The ultimate aim of investments in the area and the emphasis given has been to secure the greatest possible profits in the first year (that is not an investment) without forecasting the effects of tourism in the long-term.
We have not realised how sensitive the tourism industry is and the special treatment our tourism needs. We have not told ourselves that our goal IS OUR CUSTOMERS AND TRY TO FIND WAYS TO SERVE THEM CORRECTLY. I am in favour of those investments that are made on the basis of the right planning for the development of the area, and this includes the following elements: MARKET RESEARCH, PLANNING, ANALYSIS OF COMPETITORS, MARKET ANALYSIS – DEMOGRAPHIC DATA AND ECONOMIC ANALYSIS. This must be taken very seriously into account by the local authorities and relevant services in order to find a solution to this problem and not repeat the mistakes made in other tourist areas of Cyprus (e.g. Ayia Napa).
4. Licences are granted to operate restaurants and pubs to people who have no connection with the hotel professions. The problems that ensue from this are:
Α) High food and drink prices (no correct pricing) and
Β) No quality food and bar service to customers
As a people we are well known in Europe for our good service and hospitality and these important factors are what attract tourists to the island. That is why we must not lose our good service and hospitality and look at tourism merely as a source of easy profit. It is imperative that special seminars be held in order to tackle this problem and the CTO is called upon to take a serious view of the matter.
5. The lack of sufficient parking spaces results in a large number of problems on our roads, such as high noise and nuisance levels by drivers and motorcyclists causing annoyance to our visitors.
6. The lack of public spaces for our tourists in the area’s roads, with the result that the tourists enter the various hotels and restaurants.
7.The unlicensed operation of night clubs until the early hours, the minor incidents that arise, which are not settled because of the lack of a tourist police. The establishment of a tourist police force would create order in the tourist area and give a sense of security to both locals and visitors. The tourist police would not only control the closing hours of the night clubs, the noise pollution from the motorcycles and pubs, the minor incidents that occur at night, but also check on the operating licenses of the restaurants and bars that are granted to unqualified persons resulting in low standards of service and profiteering. For these reasons it is imperative that a tourist police force be established in order to tackle the situation in the free areas of Famagusta.
8. The creation of new infrastructures for the development of special forms of tourism (e.g. agrotourism, cultural tourism, sports tourism, and marine and health tourism) will help to further upgrade the area as a quality tourist destination. These special forms of tourism will bring about double benefits, since on the one hand we will attract high income and education tourists and on the other, the problem of seasonality that causes so much hardship every year will be alleviated. The creation of new infrastructures for the development of special forms of tourism will improve the quality not only of our tourist product but also of the lives of the local residents.
My suggestions regarding the above are as follows:
⇒ Sport Tourism. Where is our modern sports centre, courts for tennis, basketball, volleyball, an indoor swimming pool, futsal courts, a Sports Museum to exhibit both our own athletes and other sports personalities, a funfair for children and so many other things that can attract tourists who are interested in sport and who can also provide us with winter tourism? This is a serious problem that the local authorities must tackle with correct planning.
⇒ Marine and Health Tourism. The absence of a Tourist Beach and Marina with modern specifications (pavements, snack – bars, electrical lighting, toilets etc) which our municipality can exploit. In addition, a Spa Centre with gym rooms, heated pools, special quality food etc. Finally, a Maritime Museum to attract marine and health tourism.
⇒ Cultural Tourism. Where in the whole of the Paralimni-Protaras area can the traditional element be found that will attract cultural tourism? We could have a traditional neighbourhood to promote our culture (i.e. our customs and traditions), a historical museum which will show the world ALL THE STRUGGLES OF OUR LOCAL POPULATION IN MODERN HISTORY (1955-1960 struggle for liberation, Turkish invasion, missing persons, heroes, etc). Protaras could also have an amphitheatre to present artistic, cultural and folk art performances (e.g. on the feast of the Prophet Elijah).
⇒ Agrotourism. This kind of tourism could revive our local countryside and preserve our environment and agriculture. This environment could contain traditional Cypriot houses, a museum of farming, a Cypriot coffee house, and animal farms.
9. Utilisation of the Lake. Parks could be created for the children, artificial ponds with fish, artificial ponds for birds (a canoe lake), a small zoo, basketball and tennis courts, a Cypriot coffee house, snack-bars, a folk museum etc.
10.Utilisation of Nature Trails. Lighting and small stands with snacks and information about Protaras and Paralimni should be placed along the trails.
11. Advertising. What is advertised about Protaras? I believe I am expressing the views of many people involved in tourism when I say that we offer nothing but sea and sun in order to attract more quality tourism to the beautiful Protaras area. We must therefore think very seriously about this issue of promoting our tourist area at international trade fairs.
12. Training and education of human resources. Another important role in upgrading our tourism services is played by the training and education of the people who work or are involved with tourism (e.g. hotel owners and managers, hotel, restaurant and pub workers, taxi owners etc). I stress once again and will repeat this as often as necessary: without specialised professionals, correct planning and the right professional and tourist conscience and awareness we can achieve nothing.
13. Another element that needs attention is the modernisation of the infrastructures of the tourist businesses of all sizes and types, e.g. hotels, rented apartments, restaurants, small fishing ports, shops and means of transport.
14. Local Tourism Committee. The lack of a Local Tourism Committee in the Protaras area. It is an imperative need that such a committee be set up with experts in the field (researcher, economist, town planner, statistician, architect, civil engineer, members of the local hoteliers’ and hotel managers’ committee, local authorities, etc) in order to solve the problems of the area, with the ultimate aim of upgrading the quality of our tourist product. I believe there are sufficient people with enough experience in the hotel sector who could help to achieve the goals of Paralimni Municipality. This committee must be made up of people without any party-political or personal interests.
15. Tourist Villas. I have left this matter to the end because this is destroying our tourist product.Three crimes have been committed since the establishment of the Republic of Cyprus: The first was the military coup, the second was the notorious Stock Exchange scandal, and the third, strange as it may seem, is the tourist villas.
Permit me to talk about the third of these which concerns the latest crime committed against my country and the future of our children. To quote the well-known saying: “This land is not ours; we are merely borrowing it from our children”. The coup and invasion and the occupation by Turkey of almost 40% of our territory, which resulted in 200,000 Greek-Cypriot being made refugees, led to a struggle for survival with the use of every possible source of income. Correctly, at the time, the government utilised all possible resources in order to develop tourism. Thus, from 264,000 tourist arrivals we had before the invasion we currently have 2,409.919 (2006) arrivals. Suffice it to mention that before the invasion we had 60 hotel units with a total of 5,771 beds, which employed 2,000 people, and today we have 909 hotel units (with CTO licences – 2006), with a total number of 93,957 beds and 35,700 personnel. Tourism has proved to be for Cyprus “the goose that lays the golden eggs” and has given impetus to all sectors of the economy and raised the income of all citizens, with the result that Cyprus is considered today a developed and prosperous country, despite the deep wound left by the invasion.
Unfortunately tourism has gone beyond traditional boundaries. Development companies have sprung up with the aim of constructing tourist villas. These developers purchase mainly barren land at low prices or in exchange for a number of apartments or villas, they make the land look more attractive and then build luxury villas or apartments which they sell for a fat profit chiefly to foreigners. This, in my view, will destroy our tourist product and the quality of our tourism. It is a modern way of selling out our properties and our country as a whole.
We may acquire a couple of tourist villas on a plot of land for our children, but what about our grandchildren, or great-grandchildren? (The developer gets six tourist villas). In the future our grandchildren will have to buy homes in order to live on land which in the recent past their parents had allowed to pass into the hands of strangers.
Examples of this practice include the beautiful areas of Kappari, Vrisouthkia in the Protaras area, Ayia Thekla in the Ayia Napa area, Paphos, etc. Now all we see there are cement cities that we have created by exchanging land for apartments, instead of theme parks presenting our traditional agricultural area and the everyday way of life of past times. Nothing of what is taking place will attract quality tourism. The CTO, the Members of the House of Representatives, the local authorities and even the Hotel Association and others involved in the sector pay only lip service to quality tourism.
From the hotels and other services the municipalities gain significant income, while from the tourist villas all they have to gain is income from the use of water and the collection of refuse. If tourism is developed in the right way we could see a fall in unemployment, more opportunities could be given to our youth and the problem of seasonal employment would be solved.
Instead, all we think about is easy money to satisfy present needs, without a thought for the future of our children and the country as a whole. How many times are we going to sell out this island? The development of tourist villas could lead to extraordinary situations, such as we witnessed in Peyeia where the majority of inhabitants are non-Cypriots and in the near future the new Mayor and Municipal Authorities could be foreign.
I am from Paralimni and I can testify that we have suffered greatly from developments in Protaras. This should be a lesson to us. We sell and sell without a thought, without consideration for the future, without correct programming, without vision. We do everything for today, for easy money. Protaras has become an advertising billboard: menus on the pavements, people touting for business, badly constructed buildings, irregularities in shops and restaurants and the “most attractive” thing that a visitor to Protaras will see are the estate agents’ offices selling tourist villas and apartments. NOTHING ELSE CAN BE SEEN, except a ghost town, without tourists, without anything.
Let us not overlook the possibility that there may be some form of a solution to the Cyprus problem, in which case all investments will gradually move to the occupied part of Famagusta.
I believe that the implementation of the above solutions will lead to a solution for the substantive problems that are troubling the Protaras tourist area. Moreover, it is only by this strategy that we will increase toursit arrivals and thereby open the way for the winter tourism that we so greatly desire and need.
We are therefore duty bound to protect and look after the goose that for years has laid golden eggs and was the mainstay of our economy, and not sacrifice it at the altar of quick and easy profit. All the agencies and organisations of our country with grandiloquent plans, with vision, hard work and love for the country are duty bound to heed the messages and problems of the times and support the basis of the economy of our island.