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The British slowed their visits to Cyprus before the financial crisis; for them it was as much about not wanting to bend to the tastes of the new Russian travelers than it was vacationing in a destination hit hard by the euro crisis.
The financial crisis battering Cyprus will result in holiday bargains for Brits, according to one of the biggest independent tour operators specialising in the Mediterranean island.
But hotel bookings in the run-up to the crucial Easter period, when Cyprus is usually one of the most popular spring sun destinations for British holidaymakers, have been dismal for the crisis-hit island.
According to Lastminute.com, bookings to Cyprus on its site plummeted by 75% last week compared with last year as fears grew that travellers would be trapped without access to cash – although bookings began to recover this week.
One of the island’s biggest independent tour operators is now forecasting a bonanza for British holidaymakers, as hotels slash prices to fill rooms left empty by Russian and German tourists shunning the island’s beaches in the year ahead.
Noel Josephides, founder and managing director of Sunvil Holidays, said: “Cyprus as a destination has always been that bit more expensive, and hasn’t been able to compete on price with Turkey, Spain or Portugal. After it joined the euro, prices started to get ridiculous, with a coffee costing €4 (£3.40).
“The number of British holidaymakers has actually fallen since 2000. What we are going to see, after the initial shock, is that prices will start to come down. They are not leaving the euro, but what will happen is a de facto devaluation.”
British holidaymakers make up around one million of the island’s two million visitors, but in recent years Russian numbers have multiplied, with around half a million visitors last year, and with the Germans not far behind.
“The big question mark is will anyone from Germany want to go to Cyprus this year?” said Josephides. “It’s what we saw in Greece last year. A lot of Germans will feel they are just not welcome. And will the Russians take fright? If they do, there are going to be some very good deals, especially around Ayia Napa.”
Cancellations by British holidaymakers have been minimal, but hotel groups and tour operators are now trying to reassure travellers that capital controls won’t affect them, and that their cards will work on the island. Alex Babic, a director of Constantinou Bros hotels, which operates the Athena Beach and three upmarket resort hotels in Paphos, popular with British travellers, said: “There has been a slowdown in bookings, and people are wary. I suppose that is to be expected. We have been reassuring holidaymakers who have been asking if they should bring more cash than usual that we are accepting credit cards, as are most of the shops, and that all services are working. We think most British holidaymakers are fairly resilient about this sort of thing. We had an excellent season last year, and this summer was looking good until the last ten days, since when things have had a bit of a dent.”
Harry Hajipapas, manager of Cyplon Holidays since 1972, said he expected tourism to re-emerge as the biggest industry on the island. “Tourism always was the number one industry, but it got overtaken first by construction and then by financial services. I think the travel industry is going to reassume the importance it had 20 to 30 years ago, although this year the German market might disappear.
“We have not had any cancellations, but it is obvious that a lot of travel agents have been telling people to hold off booking until the banks reopen. I have seen this before, though. Everything stopped when the Turkish invaded in 1974, but the island managed to reinvent itself.”