Cyprus eyes U.S. tourism

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NEW YORK -- Cyprus has been attracting distinguished visitors since the dawn of Western European history -- big names such as Cleopatra, Alexander the Great and Richard the Lionhearted.

But not all visitors have been friendly: During the last 9,000 years, this easternmost island in the Mediterranean has been conquered by the Phoenicians, Egyptians, Romans, Crusaders, Venetians, Ottomans and British.

Centuries later, the British continue their invasion, as Cyprus has become one of their favorite vacation spots.

Travelers from the U.K. account for 1.3 million of the 2.7 million visitors who came to the legendary birthplace of Aphrodite last year.

A local family shows off its homemade cheese near the village of Tochni, Cyprus. Arrivals from the U.S. remain limited, acknowledged Nicos Ronaldis, minister of Commerce, Industry and Tourism, who said, "It is time to increase our destination sales efforts in the U.S. market from which we receive only 30,000 visitors annually."

For Ronaldis, the immediate goal is to double that number, an effort he said the U.S Cyprus Tourist Organization is working toward through a modest advertising campaign and participation in 23 trade shows, including the European Travel Commission roadshow for agents as well as its own travel agent seminars scheduled for this spring.

But the best way to achieve continued growth is to introduce direct air service from the U.S. to Cyprus, said Ronaldis.

Currently, American travelers to Cyprus connect through other European destinations, with London and Amsterdam the most prominent gateways.

While he did not say that Cyprus Airways, the national carrier, has made the commitment for such a big step, Ronaldis indicated that plans under consideration for startup service include twice-weekly flights in the low season, four-times weekly in the high season. The carrier also is weighing the possibility of a summer charter program, according to Ronaldis.

The sanctuary of Apollo near Limassol, Cyprus."A direct air link to the U.S. would not only contribute to the growth of our tourism industry," Ronaldis said, "but would support the general business sector, which enjoyed more than a 20% annual increase in GNP during the last few years."

Sea links have traditionally been important to Cyprus, and the country's major effort to promote the country as a port of call on Mediterranean sailings "has paid off handsomely, with 7% annual increase in cruise passengers annually over the last decade and a 13% increase in 1999 alone," said Ronaldis.

International cruise companies booked into the island's port city of Limassol in 2000-2001 include Classical, Costa, EuroCruises, First European, Holland America, Princess, Renaissance, Royal Olympic, Silver Seas and Swan Hellenic.

"We hope that once cruise passengers get a sampling of Cyprus, they will return to spend longer vacations and benefit from our wide range of visitor attractions and superior resort hotel infrastructure," he added.

The well-traveled, well-educated U.S. visitor is the audience that Ronaldis feels will be attracted to a Cyprus vacation.

Highlights of such a trip are archaeological sites; treasure-filled museums; a dramatic coastline dotted with fashionable beaches; the forested Troodos Mountains, noted for their Byzantine churches; quaint villages; biking and hiking trails, and a full calendar of cultural events and traditional festivals.

Deluxe properties in the country include several five-star hotels in Paphos, such as the 176-room Anassa (a member of Preferred Hotels & Resorts Worldwide), the 198-room Annabelle and the 421-room Leptos Coral Beach, just north of the historic town.

In Nicosia, international chains are represented by Inter-Continental's four-star 194-Forum Nicosia and the 298-room Nicosia Hilton, while the talk of the town of Limassol is the 301-room Le Meridien Limassol Spa & Resort, whose new spa wing opened last June.

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