The scourge of unlicensed holiday homes
E DII TO RII A L
The recent unfortunate case of a young boy drowning in the pool of a holiday complex raises the valid question, “does anyone regulate the holiday industry”? In this case, the blame has bounced from one public service to another, with each one saying that it had done what was expected of it, but not a single body responsible for coordinating them all.
Years ago, Cyprus-specialist tour operators, mainly from the U.K., were obliged to send holidaymakers only to licensed villas and apartments, making sure than any one featured in their brochures complied with rules and regulations set down by the Cyprus Tourism Organisation. Although some of these requirements were foolish and considered archaic, at least it offered some sense of security or even responsibility on the part of the owner of the property and the travel company.
Unfortunately, with the island’s developers, large and small, getting greedy and resorting to any method available to sell their properties, we had a construction boom in the past two decades that also created a new monster – individual owner/operators, very often retired expats or overseas Cypriots, selling unlicensed holiday packages via the Internet. This uncontrolled phenomenon decimated the specialist tour operator’s offering, many of whom have resorted to selling better packages to the Greek islands, the western Mediterranean and other exotic destinations such as the Caribbean, southern Africa, Pacific isles, etc.
Everyone grumbles and moans about the alleged destruction caused by the all-inclusive holidays, even though we believe that this type of vacation resort is a necessary part of the island’s variety of offerings.
But no-one says anything about the villa in Paphos or Protaras that does not meet any safety standards, is looked after by the biddy old retirees next door and does not pay a single cent in license fees, income or any other form of tax. It seems that the Inland Revenue is more keen on keeping up its crusade on alleged tax avoiders (you know, the SME that is on the verge of closing), but does absolutely nothing to clamp down on these tax evaders, details of whom could easily be extracted from the data banks of the Land Registry or from a simple sweep of the world wide web.
No one is saying charging exorbitant fees, especially if we are living in a free-market economy. But if a holiday home is to be advertised, money is to change hands and a profit is to be made (and the image of Cyprus blemished if something goes wrong), then a reduced-rate VAT must be paid on every transaction, an affordable license should be imposed and somebody ought to take charge. It would improve the revenues of local towns and communities and also provide the occasional job or two to inspect these properties.
Or else, it once again shows that tax officials and municipal workers are in the pockets of the mega developers or their high-ranking civil servant relatives who want to rent out their holiday homes and keep all the earnings in bank accounts overseas.