Cyprus eyes reflect loss of Russian, Ukrainian tourists

Cyprus eyes reflect loss of Russian, Ukrainian tourists

Cyprus eyes reflect loss of Russian, Ukrainian tourists

KYKKOS MONASTERY, Cyprus (AP) – Archimandrite Agathonikos bows to the silver-covered icon of the Virgin Mary to pray for an end to war between “peoples of the same religion” in Ukraine.

Until the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, hundreds of Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox believers who visited Cyprus would come daily to venerate the relic. Tradition dictates that it was made from beeswax and mastic by the Evangelist Luke and blessed by the Virgin herself as a true representation of her image.

With the war and a ban on Russian flights by the European Union, the estimated 800,000 Russian and Ukrainian vacationers who flock to Cyprus each year for its warm, azure waters and religious history dating back to the dawn of Christianity are practically nil. In 2019, they made up a record one-fifth of all tourists to the island nation in the Mediterranean Sea south of Turkey.

“Many worshipers from these two countries fought today,” Agathonikos said. “I wish and pray to our Virgin that these two peoples fighting today will be shown the way to peace – the faithful in both countries should pray for that.”

He is the abbot of the Kykkos Monastery on the northeastern ridge of the Troodos Mountains in Cyprus, where the icon has lived for nearly a thousand years. It, the tomb of St. Lazarus in Larnaca and the Monastery of Stavrovouni that houses a large piece of the Holy Cross, are important stops in Cyprus for Russians and Ukrainians on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, Agathonikos said.

Their absence this year, due to a sharp drop in tourism at the start of the pandemic, has led to a drop in revenues for a country whose tourism sector accounts for more than 10% of its economy. Other countries that rely on Russian and Ukrainian visitors, such as Turkey, Cuba and Egypt, are also bracing for losses just as tourism was starting to bounce back.

Cyprus’ Deputy Tourism Minister Savvas Perdios estimates that the loss of Russian and Ukrainian visitors this year will total around EUR 600 million ($645 million), with the pre-war forecast to increase the number of visitors from 2019. would approach.

Cyprus has one of the shortest flights from Russia to all Mediterranean holiday destinations, but the EU flight ban negated that advantage.

Businesses are struggling, especially local travel agencies that partner with major tour operators targeting the Russian market. Some hotels on Cyprus’ popular east coast serving Russian holidaymakers are also feeling the sting, said Haris Loizides, chairman of the Cyprus Hotel Association.

An additional burden on hotel owners is high inflation that has pushed operating costs up, he said.

Vassos Xidias, owner of a seafood restaurant bearing his name that overlooks the small port of Ayia Napa, says his business has fallen by as much as 50% this year due to the loss of the Russian market.

“There is a huge problem in our work,” Xidias said. “Now we will see how much this will be covered by the European market and others. It’s the gamble we’re waiting to see in the next four months” of the tourist season.

Despite the uproar, officials say that thanks to foresight and plans to find new markets, even before Russia invaded Ukraine, Cyprus is expected to account for a significant portion of the lost revenue.

More holidaymakers are expected this summer from European markets, including the 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 in Cyprus will leave about 60 euros per person per day, while other nationalities will be about 90 euros,” says Perdios.

While there were no direct flights from France to Cyprus two years ago, this year 20 flights a week will depart. The number of weekly flights from Germany and the Scandinavian countries has risen this year to 50 and 30 respectively, more than in 2019.

Lozides says hotel owners may report fewer bookings than in 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 will stop people from traveling this year,” Perdios said.

Loizides said hotel owners have not given up on bringing Russian tourists this summer. He says they are investigating the possibility of getting Russians to Cyprus through countries not bound by the no-fly zone, such as Serbia, Georgia and Israel.

Perdios says his ministry’s revamped tourism strategy has gained momentum in European markets as it highlights what Cyprus has to offer besides sun and surf.

That includes vegan hotels and wine tours through mountainous villages to learn about wines such as Commandaria, winner of the first international wine competition in 1224.

“We’ve put in so much work to be able to stand before you today and say, ‘Hey, you know what? It’s going to be an okay season. It’s going to be a decent season. It’s not a disaster. And we’ll be fine,” Perdios said.

Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine