NICOSIA — With 2020 a lost year for tourism because of the unrelenting COVID-19 pandemic, Cyprus hopes that the first vaccine, now in use in the United Kingdom, will bring back British tourists to the island once its colony.
UK visitors are the most crucial to the island, bringing one-third of the annual arrivals that hit 3.97 million in a record 2019 before the horror show of the Coronavirus spread death and fear of traveling, and lockdowns.
Tourism dropped off the map this year on the island, falling 85 percent as even when it wasn't locked down, travelers from countries hit the hardest, such as the UK, barred from entering.
UK travel agents said a decision to allow people vaccinated against the Coronavirus to enter Cyprus without having to quarantine or present a negative PCR test has encouraged early bookings for 2021, said The Financial Mirror.
Noel Josephides of Sunvil Travel and former chairman of the Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO), said that his firm has seen signs that confidence in travelling has picked up with a considerable number of bookings for April and May, the site said.
“Cyprus was the first country to announce it will allow people in who have been vaccinated independent of their country of origin. Cyprus was quick in acting and it will see their move pay off,” said Josephides.
With mass vaccinations underway in the UK, Sunvil feels more people will feel confident to book a trip overseas. “The bookings we have so far are from our older clientele, which if not yet vaccinated, are expected to get the jab by Easter,” he added.
But he said it might be difficult to convince younger people to take the vaccine with uncertainty over its safety and efficacy still high among many groups, although the elderly and those with underlying conditions who are the most susceptible the first in line to get it.
“One of the ways to do that, without endangering public health at holiday destinations or back home in the UK, is for countries to accept travellers taking a rapid antigen test, which have proven to be very effective, instead of the PCR test,” he said.
A complicating factor could be the effect of the UK leaving the Eurozone at the end of the year, still up in the air with negotiations ongoing, the two sides said far apart on a number of critical issues.
Josephides said that UK officials have warned that from January 1, the UK will be subject to EU recommendation on external travel restrictions, a system that only allows non-essential EU travel to a handful of non-EU countries.
Asked if COVID will make it more difficult for UK residents to travel to the EU after January 1, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told BBC Radio: “COVID restrictions will depend on the combination of what the EU decides but also member states and we’ve already got challenges with that, and of course we’ve put our restrictions in place.
The Association of Cyprus Travel Agents (ACTA) has reservations over the government decision to renew the safe travel list.
“They were right in deciding that people vaccinated should be allowed in without being asked for a test or to quarantine, but they have yet to explain which vaccines will be accepted,” said ACTA chief Vasilis Stamataris.
“The International Air Transport Association, or IATA, is planning to introduce a mobile phone app that arriving travellers can use to prove they are vaccinated for the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 and tested negative for it.”