Fi­nan­cialMir­ror New ju­nior tourism minister will have his hands full

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - OPINION -

The first Deputy Minister for Tourism, Sav­vas Per­dios, will have his hands full the day he walks into his new of­fice on Jan­uary 2, with the re­struc­tured Cyprus Tourism Or­gan­i­sa­tion now hav­ing more pow­ers as well as re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

The first task will be to im­ple­ment the Na­tional Strat­egy for Tourism, a blue­print de­vel­oped by for­eign con­sul­tants, which has taken three years to come into force, and no­body knows why.

These strate­gic plans have been to-ing and fro-ing be­tween the CTO and the com­pe­tent min­istry for at least two decades, sug­gest­ing that ei­ther those com­mis­sioned to con­duct the stud­ies were not com­pe­tent to do so, or other ob­sta­cles popped up, such as trade union de­mands or hurt­ing the in­ter­est of stake­hold­ers (hote­liers, tour op­er­a­tors, travel com­pa­nies, etc.)

The last time we were talk­ing about a new na­tional strat­egy, tourist ar­rivals were at 2.5 mil­lion, with the plan pre­par­ing the is­land for 5 mln. Al­ready we have reached nearly 4 mln and no plan in sight.

The hote­liers want par­lia­ment to pass the rat­ings re­form bill that will al­low units to be clas­si­fied on qual­ity, and not just struc­tural is­sues, i.e. room size, num­ber of pools and restau­rants, al­lo­cated car park­ing, etc. At the same time, the new reg­u­la­tions for self-cater­ing apart­ments, such as Airbnb, have been wa­tered down and ig­nored the whole point of get­ting some or­der in this sec­tor.

What needs to be done here is to li­cense such apart­ments, if they con­form with ba­sic Tourism Min­istry rules, health reg­u­la­tions and in­surance for cus­tomers, and en­sure that the state is not de­nied mil­lions in lost rev­enue by tax evaders.

In­stead, MPs chose to en­force harsher rules of ‘neigh­bourly con­duct’ rem­i­nis­cent of Stal­in­ist days when the cit­i­zens’ watch would de­ter­mine who goes where, how much water is used in the bath­room and what’s cook­ing on the stove.

Tourism also suf­fers from pal­try pro­mo­tional bud­gets that have been slashed due to the re­cent eco­nomic cri­sis, not re­al­is­ing that this is a sec­tor that should be ad­ver­tised all year round, with a big­ger mar­ket­ing spend in or­der to com­pete with ri­val des­ti­na­tions in the re­gion.

The trou­ble with the new Deputy Min­istry of Tourism is that it will suf­fer from the same con­straints as with all the rest of the govern­ment ma­chine, with the civil ser­vice men­tal­ity ham­per­ing any progress.

Now that all CTO staff will be­come pub­lic ser­vants, we shouldn’t ex­pect any im­prove­ment in at­ti­tudes, let alone some­one an­swer­ing the phones, as with all other govern­ment de­part­ments.

It would be un­fair to com­pare Tourism with the re­cently estab­lished Deputy Min­istry of Ship­ping, be­cause in the lat­ter’s case, the in­dus­try it­self has de­ter­mined pol­icy over the past four decades, and will con­tinue to do so, in which case the tran­si­tion from the Depart­ment of Mer­chant Ship­ping was smooth, with the ju­nior minister hav­ing lit­tle trou­ble to ac­cli­ma­tise her­self with the sec­tor.

In the case of Tourism, Per­dios will be an easy tar­get for crit­ics, sim­ply be­cause he al­ready hails from the ho­tels sec­tor where his fam­ily is in­volved and can­not af­ford an ex­cuse of need­ing time to learn about the work­ings of the depart­ment.

He has a huge bur­den on his shoul­ders and a lot on his plate.

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