UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) Secretary General Taleb Rifai has expressed faith in Cyprus and a belief that tourism can and will be part of the country’s future.
Rifai, who recently paid Cyprus a visit, spoke of the potential and the challenges of Cyprus’ tourist industry.
He said Cyprus has favourable weather conditions and a powerful combination of natural settings and rich history, which are important for it as a year round destination and in the effort for diversification of its product.
At the same time, Rifai says, it is not too far from major source markets such as Europe, Russia and the Middle East.
“The challenge is to take all the above and make the best out of it”, he said.
Asked if the ‘sun and beach’ model is no longer enough and what should be done, he says that despite the fact that it has been a success story it is time to move beyond it.
“With so many ‘sun & beach’ destinations around us you need to provide a product which is ‘sun & beach’ plus; cultural excursions, nature lovers, health tourism, conferences, events”, he notes.
Without doing that, he warns, “Cyprus would eventually risk competing only on the basis of prices, which is a very risky path”.
Asked whether he feels that the action taken is in the right direction, he says that during his visit “I have heard what has made me feel very comfortable and confident that there is thinking in the right direction”
He stressed the significance of placing tourism high on the national agenda.
“If you have the political will that believes that Cyprus must become an important tourist destination then every other challenge becomes a detail”, he notes, adding that “it is never what you have it is what you do with what you have”.
He also speaks of the need for Cyprus to be accessible to tourists and for sufficient connectivity.
“If you want to attract people to come to Cyprus you must make their arrival here easier”, he points out.
UNWTO SG is also invited to advice small and medium tourist enterprises which are struggling and he notes that tourism is a growing industry which will continue to grow because traveling has become a part of life and there is no going back.
“Do not drop your prices”, is his advice to businesses. “Compete by improving the offer”. The easy way is to drop the prices, he explains adding that “the most challenging way is to add to your offer things that make it unique, special and a very memorable experience”.
He points out that “the key is ‘improve your offer’ that is the best recipe for keeping ahead of the game”.
Asked how the UNWTO can help Cyprus’ tourist industry, he sends a dual message.
“A message to the world that Cyprus is what it is, it hasn’t changed as a tourist destination”, he says. “What I saw here,” he adds “is a very pleasant and welcoming environment. There is absolutely nothing that would deter anybody from coming to Cyprus”.
But, Rifai notes, “there is also a message to the people of Cyprus because sometimes when you are in the middle of a difficult situation you think that the way the world sees you is different”. That, he stresses, “is absolutely incorrect; the world continues to look at Cyprus as a pleasant, welcoming and warm destination”.
"Our message to the people is ‘please carry on business as usual and don’t be deterred’ because we do not want tourism to suffer unduly and to pay the price of other connected economic activities".
He says the UNWTO can provide technical support, studies, research, data and experts.
However, as he points out, “more important is the political support that we can lend and by that I mean the carrying of messages”.
“If it is the right message, if it is the right content we can amplify it and we do amplify it in the global and international scene and that carries weight, it resonates”.
“We are delighted with Cyprus. We believe in this country”, Rifai says “we believe that tourism can and will become part of the future of this country and this country has friends, a lot of good friends that will make sure that it will always stay on top”.
Replying to a question on regional cooperation, he expresses the point of view that “tourism is no longer a single destination that can survive on its own”.
“People who are coming half the way across the world, from China, India, Malaysia, Korea or Japan, are interested in having a multi-destination itinerary in one trip”, he explains, adding that “the result is ‘what is good for my neighbour is good for me’”.
He continues to say that “if more people come to the Mediterranean you shouldn’t work with the assumption that ‘my next door neighbour is my competition’. It’s not”.
You can turn it around, he adds, “by engaging in multi-destination agreements, leveraging your strengths with other destinations’ strengths next to you”.
“Imagine how powerful an itinerary would be for example for a Chinese, who in one trip visits Jordan, Cyprus and Egypt”, he points out.
Asked whether tourism can be reconciled with the environment, Rifai says that they are two sides of the same coin.
“We can and we should encourage more people to travel, but travel in a more responsible way and use the economic energy and revenues that come out of this travel to even better and enhance your environment whether it is your natural environment or your cultural environment”, he notes.
SOURCE: Famagusta Gazette