Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Russian arrivals not likely to save ailing tourism

CYPRUS may be seeing a massive hike in the number of tourists from Russia in percentage terms but in real terms it is actually taking a diminishing share of the growing Russian holiday market.

Cypriot tourism authorities have been at pains recently to plug Russia as a possible saviour to replace dwindling numbers of Britons. However, the reality is that Russia as yet only comprises 6.0 per cent of all visitors to the island while Britain’s share is still closer to 50 per cent.

Having fallen off dramatically from the 1997 high of 221,854, the official figure for Russian arrivals in 2008 was 180,919, an increase of 24 per cent over 2007.

By contrast some 1.5 million Britons visit Cyprus.

Last month authorities were touting a 43 per cent increase in Russian visitors over January 2008 which increased the numbers from 1,955 arrivals to 2,793

In his presentation at a conference organised by the Cyprus Hotels Association (PASYXE) during the week, Dmitry Shevchenko, President of Russia’s ICS Travel Group, said that although the absolute number of Russian visitors was rising, this represented a diminishing share of the total number of Russians travelling abroad.

In 2007, 1.72 per cent of all Russian tourists came to Cyprus, but in 2008 this dropped to 1.57 per cent.

By comparison, Turkey had a 23.4 per cent share of the Russian market in 2007, falling to 22.1 per cent in 2008, and Egypt 10.9 and 10.7 per cent.

More sobering is the fact that Cyprus was third on the list of Russian tour operators’ preferences in 2002, but for the last three years it has been eleventh. During this same period, Turkey was consistently first choice, and Egypt was no lower than fifth.

“The first factor is that Cyprus is not meeting the rising demand by the Russian market for 4-star and 5-star hotels, which grew from 42 per cent of preferred accommodation in 2006 to 67 per cent in 2008. There is a similar deficiency in club-style hotels and ones offering all-inclusive deals,” said Shevchenko.

He said there was also a cost issue. ICS Travel Group data show that Cyprus hotel prices went up by between 5 and 12 per cent in 2007 and between 3.5 and 15 per cent [8 to 15 per cent in Ayia Napa alone] in 2008.

And despite the government’s targeting of the tourism industry for economic relief measures, and a massive 35 per cent decrease in the value of the rouble against the euro, two thirds of Cypriot hoteliers have increased their rates to Russian tour operators by 2.0 to 5.0 per cent, and a third have increased it by 7.0 to 8.0 per cent.

Referring to the issue of flights Shevchenko said Cyprus Airways operated “an inefficient inflexible business strategy between 2006 and 2008”, by raising its prices and cancelling block-seats for tour operators.

This culminated in the cancellation of twelve CY flights for January and February 2009. By contrast, there are direct flights from 40 Russian cities to Turkey, and 25 cities to Egypt.

Shevchenko said there was the need for more support from the government. He suggested bringing in a quota for issuing visas “upon arrival” to Russian tourists, having CY make 400-500 tickets available to tour operators for incentive tours, and a significant increase in CTO support for the major Russian tour operators.

“A crisis is a time for swift, decisive action, not never-ending talk,” said Shevchenko.