FACING hard times because of the crisis, with many hotels shutting for the winter due to crippling fuel bills, those in the mountains say it is time for Cyprus to move beyond its sun and sand image and promote all of the island.
It is a stance backed up by presidential candidate Nicos Anastassiades, who is tipped to win. “The region of Troodos is a unique destination, combining natural beauty, streams, waterfalls, amazing footpaths and rare flora and fauna,” he said in a speech given in the Troodos region, during which he revealed his plan to develop the area if he is to be elected.
His plan is to involve the state and local communities, to use European funding programmes and to attract foreign and local investment for the region. Welcome words to the ears of tourist officer for the regional tourist board in Platres Constantinos Constantinou who said all the small communities in the area need to come together as one to battle the plunge in tourism this winter.
Soaring prices for electricity and fuel have led many of the hotels to close for the winter season, while fewer numbers of visitors have had knock on effects on other businesses in the region.
“The community leaders of Platres along with Kakopetria, Agros, Omodos, Pedoulas and Troodos need to cooperate instead of each looking at their own village and what it requires to pull people in,” Constantinou said. “Alone they will struggle to succeed in attracting large numbers but if they work together there is a possibility they could succeed but it also requires vision and ambition,” he added.
Of the hotels that are closing for this year’s winter season Constantinou believes it is the larger hotels that have suffered the most. “Small family run hotels have been able to stay open to a large extent because they don’t hire workers and usually the owners themselves run the hotel and often live in it,” he said. “The larger hotels like New Helvetia and Forest Park have had to close to decrease the loss they are making during this winter period,” he added.
The fall in business at hotels has had a knock-on effect on other businesses in the area with restaurants also reporting low figures for this time of year. “The industry in general is down which is causing a chain reaction as there are less tourists in the area, meaning restaurants are suffering from a lack of business as they cannot sustain themselves through local visitors,” Constantinou said.
Although numbers are down, Constantinou said there is plenty for visitors to see and do once up the mountains. “People are now more specific in their demands, gone are the days when visitors would come, spend a night in a cheap room, enjoy a relatively cheap meal and drink and be happy,” he said. “They are looking for well-organised trips to enjoy the culture and beautiful scenery which exists and if potential visitors are not made aware of what is on offer then more barren winter periods will follow,” he concluded.
The Forest Park Hotel in Platres is among those closing its doors this winter. “We have had to make some changes to the hotel over the winter, nothing too drastic, but to meet CTO (Cyprus Tourism Organisation) regulations we felt that during this lean winter we would attempt to cut some of our losses and close down for a short period,” said owner Marios Skyrianides.
The driving force for this decision was the exorbitantly high costs of electricity and heating fuel that meant running a hotel with 140 rooms was a tall order if the only business he would be getting arrived on Saturday and left on Sunday.
Even though the hotel will reopen its doors on April 1, Skyrianides said something needs to be done to bring tourism back to the area. “The ‘product’, all of the beautiful scenery, the various activities, the great restaurants, exists,” he said. “All that is needed is a small push from the CTO and the government to increase their advertising of the area and what it has to offer,” he added.
Platres Community Leader Panayiotis Papadopoulos said this downturn in tourism had led him and the village’s council members to spring into action. “We are a small community of around 200 people and of course it’s a tall order to expect the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism to listen to our demands but we couldn’t sit idly by,” he said.
The council visited the ministry last month to present proposals to minister Neoclis Sylikiotis but had yet to hear back from anyone. In their proposal they asked for VAT on electricity and heating fuel to be reduced over certain periods of the year to give the area a much-needed financial push.
The council also suggested a small amount of funds that go towards providing cheaper summer holidays for government employees could be used to fund holidays over the Christmas period to mountain resorts. “We are not asking for much but we feel like our demands have fallen on deaf ears,” he said.
“Currently the cost of electricity and heating fuel has meant the majority of hotels in the area, not only in Platres, will remain shut over the winter period and something needs to be done about it because it’s a real shame if we can’t take advantage of this beautiful area,” he concluded.
One man who has kept his business open in Platres despite working at a deficit is the Edelweiss Hotel owner George Papas, and he feels that the area is suffering from a lack of unity. “We are not many hotel owners, yet we do not see eye-to-eye with each other,” he said. “Many look at their own personal gain instead of trying to look at the bigger picture to help bring in business to the whole area”.
Platres has recently invested in a modern sporting centre with a football pitch, futsal pitch, basketball court and volleyball court but Papas feels with the addition of a swimming pool the village could be a very attractive destination for European football teams during the winter break. “While speaking with members of the AEL team that came up to Platres for pre-season training they told me that although our sports centre is excellent, without a swimming pool it loses some of its appeal with many top teams looking for places with pools,” he explained.
Papas believes the cost of building a swimming pool would be easily recouped if a decision to build it was made. “Unfortunately there are members of our council who have swimming pools in their hotels and don’t want the village to invest in a public pool for fear of losing business,” he said.
“I am a firm believer that what makes this area great is the fabulous hospitality we offer our guests but unfortunately that too is disappearing but if we want to resurrect the tourism industry we must return to the ideals we once held sacred,” he concluded.
The main proposal made by Anastasiades in his speech was the building of a teleferique in the Troodos region to make the whole area more accessible to tourists with parking areas, information centres for the region and stands selling local goods and produce. To offer tourists a different kind of experience he also suggested the creation of themed parks, play-places for children, event spaces, religious monuments, nature trails for pedestrians and cyclists and different cafés and restaurants.
“Our vision is to develop the Troodos region to create jobs and make farming life sustainable, which will not only give residents of the area motivation to remain there but also to bring new residents,” he said.