No COVID-19 Recovery Plan: EU Dithers, Cyprus Tourism Withers

Αssociated Press

Two people walk on an empty stretch of beach that would normally be swarming with sun-worshipping vacationers at the start of the tourism season in Cyprus popular seaside resort village of Ayia Napa, Saturday, May 9, 2020. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

Slow to react to the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic, the European Union now has yet to devise a plan for economic recovery when lockdowns are eased back, tourist-reliant countries eager for a uniform health protocol in the 27-member bloc, especially Cyprus.

Heavily dependent on luring visitors from other countries, especially in the peak summer months, Cyprus is awaiting an EU plan to persuade people it will be safe to travel, and when full international air traffic resumes, also up in the air.

“The challenge is devising a common policy so that national authorities can be sure that disembarking passengers aren’t spreading the novel coronavirus,”EU policy expert Martin Kahanec of the Bruegel think tank in Brussels told The Cyprus Mail. “And to make sure that the passengers aren’t bringing it back home.”

Cross-border air travel is down about 90 percent, said the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation (Eurocontrol) with no indication when it will pick up again as there hasn’t been a coordinated plan.

Kahanec said the European Commission - is is allowing air carriers to violate EU regulations to give refunds for canceled flights and let them issue vouchers instead - is only making “vague and general recommendations.”

Cyprus Hotel Association President Haris Loizides told the newspaper the EU’s dawdling is wasting precious time as the summer looms. 

“We need to know what happens before a tourist gets on a plane, what happens on the plane, and what to expect when that tourist arrives here in Cyprus,” he said.

Frida Polyak, a European tourist industry analyst with market researcher Euromonitor in London told the paper that the lack of guidance is a big hindrance for countries who need them in place between them. “This is a significant road block to restoring tourism in Cyprus,” she said

“Cyprus gets about one-third of its tourists from the UK and Russia. The Cyprus government could try to work out bilateral agreements with each, but it is not clear that the commission would accept them. In any case, the process is complex and difficult,” she added.

On June 9, beaches, hotels and airports are set to reopen in Cyprus but there’s no target yet for reopening the airports at Larnaca and Paphos although Loizides said strict safety measures will be in places for hotels and restaurants.

Loizides added: “We do not, however, want our hotels to look like hospitals. Comfort will be combined with safety measures.”

The big question, of course, is how many will come in the aftermath of COVID-19, especially with uncertainty whether airplanes will be limited in how many passengers they can take, a survey by Euromonitor finding 50 percent of people unsure for now.