TOURISM IN COVID ERA
ELENA TANOU. VICE CHAIRMAN, TOPKINISIS TRAVEL PLC
Ms. Tanou is the Vice President of the Nicosia Chamber of Commerce and Industry, President of the Nicosia Tourism Board, Vice President of the Cyprus Integrity Forum. She is on the Board of the Cyprus Investment Promotion Agency (CIPA) and also serves on the Board of the Business Advisory Council of the University of Cyprus, the University of Nicosia and the European University.
The coronavirus pandemic has had a devastating impact on travel. What do you think of the tourism business worldwide and particularly in Cyprus?
Tourism is a crucial part of many national economies, and the immediate and massive shock to the tourism industry because of Corona virus pandemic is affecting the wider economy. Many countries are now entering a new chapter in fighting the virus and at the same time managing the re-opening of the tourism economy. This is very complicated and challenging task and quantifying the impact on the tourism economy is difficult.
In early 2020, the Covid 19 pandemic affected tourism worldwide in unprecedented ways. All the stakeholders in the tourism industry ie airlines, hotels, museums, restaurants etc. have done outstanding work keeping travelers engaged. We have seen all the above working hard to keep their clients connected virtually through videos, online conferences workshops etc. Virtual travelling was much enjoyed during lockdown.
The tourism sector had a few continuous and very successful years up until 2019. The recent stagnation though provided many challenges to all these businesses relevant with the tourism sector. They cannot plan short or long term in order to be sustainable or profitable.
Although, we were all experiencing a culture shock in the midst of this global pandemic there were great efforts that supported innovative ways that could maintain the relationship with all the audience and the customers. We saw the most effective social media campaigns promoting safe destinations or safe travelling.
The different stakeholders in the tourism field are working more collaboratively and collectively on projects that connect people’s needs during Covid and after. These days, more than ever travelers are actually looking for safer travelling. Airlines, destinations, resorts, hotels tried their best to provide safety through protocols and certifications.
What is the impact of this situation on the Cyprus economy and how long the travel sector can survive?
In a nutshell, this is the biggest crisis ever for the tourism businesses suffering for long and uncertain length of time. International travelling declined by 75% in 2020 compared to 2019. Cyprus and all the Eastern Mediterranean suffered even bigger decline which is more than 80%. Although, Cyprus authorities handled the Covid-19 spread very well and even though, the Ministry of Tourism campaigned systematically, that we were very safe and responsible destination for Europe and worldwide, because of the uncertain protocols tourists didn’t arrive in large numbers.
In 2019, tourism generated 2.2 billion euros for the economic development, 10% of Cyprus’ GDP. Tourism has always been a key factor which enabled the enhancement of entrepreneurship of the country. This crisis will bring along a huge negative impact on the economy and the society. We cannot say precisely how long the travel sector can survive this crisis but the best imagined scenario if we see things on the positive side, will be an opening of the markets and the airlines, starting more frequent flights by April 2021. If the situation continues with countries being closed or strict protocols applied, thus making the travelling experience complicated, we will only witness many bankruptcies and huge unemployment.
What are the future prognoses regarding the international flights and if there are some new schemes to estimate the possibility of the risk in every flight from any particular country?
In 2020, all the airlines had huge losses, consequently some will close down. International surveys and researches predict only by the year 2024 the airline traffic will resume the numbers of 2019. In the case of low cost airlines we might see change of ownerships and shareholding. Cyprus reopened its skies to all airlines after the pandemic in June 2020. Previously, we had 5-6 Russian airlines landing to Cyprus, now much less. The Cyprus Civil Aviation urges all airlines to resume their flights. Unfortunately, there is no practical or common approach for categorizing the different countries, within Europe or internationally, thus different protocols apply which make travelling complicated and difficult.
How in such situation to keep tourism businesses afloat?
Tourism has always been a major driving force for growth and development of the Cyprus economy during difficult and challenging years. During this pandemic, the businesses must support each other, apply synergies in order to ensure that the travel and tourism industry emerges more dynamic, resilient and smarter than before. All who are concerned about tourism, Government Authorities and private entities should cooperate and design the vision and strategy for the after Covid era, based on our niche items, our uniqueness ie warm weather almost all year around, more than 100 blue flag beaches, good tourism infrastructure, ancient history, antiquities, entertainment and gastronomy.
- The need for further investment in ICT (Information Communications Technologies) has been highlighted by the European Commission for the 2021 – 2027 Policy objectives, particular emphasis on Policy Objective 1: “A Smarter Europe”.
- In this report, the importance of ICT uptake in SMEs, B2B, B2C and C2C has been mentioned.
- At the same time, studies by the European Commission highlights the need for ICT investment to gather accurate data that will enable us to track changes of tourists’ behavior particularly in the post-Covid time.
- The World Tourism Organization on its suggestions to the member – states for tourism recovery underlines the need to establish Local Tourism Observatories with high – end ICT technologies for understanding and monitoring tourism development and impact.
• The European Capital of Smart Tourism on its annual report for the European Commission 2019, highlights the need of data collection and marks relevant initiatives as Smart Tourism best Practices in digitalization particularly those emphasizing in understanding tourist needs, local routes, experiences rating and decision – making process.
- Recent years, Cyprus has archived a significant raise in ICT research. We should highlight the RISE research center and particularly its project iNICOSIA: A DIGITAL TWIN CITY
- At the same time a pillar project currently implemented by the Nicosia Municipality, the SMART CITY architecture, is a driving force project through which extremely important data expected to be gather that will allow us to better design policies and key actions in tourism.
- ENTER CY project, is a spearhead project focus particularly in ICT and tourism. Part of the research pays special attention on ICT for developing a better understanding and continually improve our knowledge regarding tourist behavior, integrating Immersive reality, augmented reality, and virtual reality technologies.
- Nicosia Tourism Board turns its attention in ICT for designing better Marketing and Communication action as well as for developing knowledge about tourists’ most usual routes, experiences, activities as well as for evaluating and monitoring projects such as Info points and Info kiosks projects.
- Last, NTB recently implement a digital workshop about Cyprus brand and reputation and how each particular tourism SME could have a significant role to play on this, especially through digital accounts that could create i.e. Expedia, trip advisor, Social Media, etc.
It’s important to realize that this is not the first time that tourism has been challenged by an interventional crisis but has historically rebounded relatively quickly.
Your thoughts on the future situation?
In 2020-2021, unfortunately, the pandemic may close many businesses temporarily or permanently. We also know well though that with any challenges come great opportunities. This pause provided the tourism sector a chance to strengthen or enhance its programs regarding the new technologies, friendlier environmental travelling, eco-tourism, slow tourism, energy save, less emissions etc.