LONDON — Tourists from the United Kingdom, one of the regions hardest hit by COVID-19, won't come to Cyprus if they have to be tested for the virus, tour operators said, although the island – a former colony – is a favorite of the British, with expatriates living there.
Tourism Deputy Minister Savvas Perdios said the health protocols designed to prevent the spread of the virus and ensure visitors it's safe to come isn't working with UK tour companies who said they won't sent tourists if testing is required.
“At least until mid-August, major travel agents will be sending their tourists to destinations which do not require tests,” Perdios told the state broadcaster CyBC about the dilemma of wanting to keep safe people who don't want to be.
“Travel agents have other options and expectations. Seeing as there are options for them to go to other countries without checks and a test, they prefer the solution which for the time being is easier for them. Having said that, I do not mean that Cyprus needs to follow suit,” he said, The Cyprus Mail reported.
Tour operators Tui and Jet2 said they won't fly to Cyprus unless the UK is moved to a category that doesn't require testing despite the virus still rampaging in Britain and the rest of that region.
The UK remains in a list countries which cannot fly to Cyprus but that would be lifted on August 1, likely too late to save a summer season seeing far fewer visitors than were expected, with people also afraid to fly or stay in hotels or short-term rentals.
As of that date, UK travelers could enter Cyprus but only if they have a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of departure, but the tour operators are balking and demanding no tests or they won't send anyone.
“The volume drivers (Tui and Jet2) announced that they would be rescheduling their UK flights to Cyprus and will not bring flights here until August 15, and only if we put the UK into category A. If we don’t do that, we aren’t going to have any flights with them,” Euripides Loizides, spokesman of the Paphos Hoteliers told the paper.
Tui and Jet2 are the main tour operators for Cyprus, especially Paphos and many hotels are reliant on their custom he said, although Ryanair and other airlines will fly from the UK despite massive cancellations because of Cypriot requirements.
Vasilis Stamataris, Chairman of the Cyprus Travel Agents’ Association (ACT) told the paper that that travel agents still prefer destinations which don't test despite the risk to the tourists and residents of the countries they are visiting.
“There are a lot of logistics involved. When there is an organized schedule it requires commitments, guarantees, confirmed flights. It is a huge ordeal if upon arrival to Cyprus, someone ends up testing positive,” he said.
The cost of taking the test in the UK for a family of four prior to their arrival could amount to 800 euros ($911.20) a prohibitive cost for many on top of the price of travel, accommodations, food and spending.
Cyprus said it would pay the expenses of anyone who gets COVID-19 while on vacation but that isn't persuading people to come, the hassle just not worth it this year which could be a write-off for the country's critical tourist industry.
Countries like Spain – devastated by COVID-19 – are so eager to get the economy going they are risking letting anyone in without tests, with travel agents preferring those destinations despite the health hazards.
“If the fight in airports is lost, then the war against the coronavirus is lost,” virologist and member of the government’s scientific advisory team Leontios Kostrikis told the paper, saying that more testing is needed.
The government announced earlier this week it will double the daily number of random tests to arrivals to 600 per day. Authorities are also set to begin pool testing, where small groups of people are tested using only one test.
Lozides said, “We have to face it and be responsible for ourselves and others. We can’t do what we want to do and have to follow some safety steps. People can still have a lovely holiday. The introductions of wearing a mask in both Germany and the UK is an indication that people have to understand that this is what has to be done and not be arrogant. We all have to compromise.”