Cyprus eyes golden age of tourism


Room Key: Le Meridien Limassol Spa & Resort

Address: P.O. Box 56560, CY-3308 Limassol, Cyprus
Phone: (011) 357-2 586-2000
Fax: (011) 357-2 563-4222
E-mail: [email protected]
Rooms: 329
Rates: From about $180 to $400 including buffet breakfast, service fee and taxes. Rates higher for suites and Royal Spa rooms.
Commission: Net rates (about 25% to 30% below best available) in lieu of commission
Facilities: Eight restaurants; five bars; entertainment, sports centers; kids' club; fitness club; meetings rooms; 32,300-square-foot thalassotherapy spa with seven pools, 34 treatment rooms.

Cyprus, the easternmost island in the Mediterranean Sea, was once the crossroads of commerce between Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. It flourished for thousands of years, first under the Mycenaean Greeks, then under the Phoenicians, Assyrians, Persians, Egyptians, Romans, Byzantines, Crusaders, Germans, Franks, Venetians, Ottomans and the British -- all of whom left remnants of their cultures.

"Our tourism product is the sum of all these cultures and religions," said Phoebe Katsouris, director general of the Cyprus Tourism Organization.

Katsouris said the agency has intensified its efforts to make the product more accessible, including "offering financial support and joint marketing programs to airlines willing to work with us in improving air service to Cyprus."

New flights by low-cost carrier EasyJet, Katsouris said, began in late March between Cyprus' west coast airport at Pafos and London (Gatwick), offering connections there for flights to and from the U.S., another low-cost airline, is set to debut service to Pafos in late April from the U.K. air terminal at Leeds Bradford.

Also, British Airways plans to open a London Gatwick-to-Pafos route this summer; the carrier already has service with U.S. flight connections from London Heathrow to Cyprus' east coast airport at Larnaca.

Passengers flying to Cyprus from U.S. gateways also can connect at other European hubs, such as Amsterdam, Athens and Frankfurt.

In another program to boost air travel to Cyprus, a new terminal is scheduled to open at the island's main airport at Larnaca in late 2009. Also on tap for Larnaca are major improvements to its port facilities, allowing Cyprus to shift the bulk of its cruise operations there. Cruise ships currently dock at the port of Limassol on the south coast of the island.

U.S. visits up

042108cyprusAlthough visitors from the U.S. account for only a small, modestly growing percentage of Cyprus' 2.4 million annual overnight tourists, the island has been enjoying a sharp upturn in American day visitors from cruise ships. For 2007, the CTO reports show an overall, year-over-year increase of some 26,000 cruise visitors, of whom 10,000 held U.S. passports.

The increase was in line with new stops at Cyprus by Royal Caribbean, Holland America, Celebrity and other lines popular with U.S. vacationers.

Day tours to the southwest coast of the island take visitors to the legendary birthplace of the Greek goddess Aphrodite. Farther up the coast, around Pafos, visitors see the spectacular mosaic floors of Roman villas and a hillside cave lined by Byzantine wall paintings, among other attractions.

Tours of the southern coast include a stop at a medieval fort in Limassol, where King Richard the Lionheart wed the French noblewoman Berengaria in 1191.

"Our whole island is like an outdoor history museum," said Tasoula Manaridis, CTO spokeswoman for North America. Visitors seeking even more history trips, she said, can take two-day cruises from Cyprus to other Mediterranean destinations such as Israel, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Rhodes.

Another major growth strategy of the CTO is to put more big spenders in the island's guest beds, of which some 60% -- or around 32,000 -- are in four- and five-star properties. Five-star resorts include the 329-room Starwood Le Meridien Spa & Resort near Limassol; the 58-room Thalassa Boutique Hotel & Spa on Coral Bay, up the beach from Pafos; and the 294-room Atlantica Aeneas Hotel at Agia Napa, on the east coast of the Greek-speaking part of the island.

Planned to spark an upturn in premium or longer-staying customers is the upcoming addition of five golf courses to Cyprus' three present courses. The first will be a 27-hole Nick Faldo Signature course set to open next spring near Pafos. Following that will be a course at Limassol, another at Larnaca and two at Agia Napa.

One for all

Katsouris said a huge boost for tourism could come through reunification of the 3,600-square-mile island. For the past 34 years, it's been split between the Greek Cypriot-governed Republic of Cyprus on the southern two-thirds of the island and a Turkish Cypriot-governed community in the northern section.

The Greek part of the island joined the European Union in 2004.

A "green line" manned by U.N. troops has been separating the two areas since hostilities between the Greeks and Turks led to an invasion of the northern section by the Turkish army in 1974.

The 185-mile line cuts through the inland Cypriot capital of Nicosia, partially along the museum-packed city's famed Venetian Walls.
The Republic of Cyprus' recently elected president, Katsouris stressed, ran on a platform of reuniting the island. If that happened, "it would do wonders for tourism," she said.

The division came just 14 years after Cyprus won its independence from Great Britain, which had governed the island since 1878. The Republic of Cyprus remains a favorite destination for visitors from the U.K., as shown in the bilingual signage around the island. Many Greek Cypriots speak English as a second language.

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