We cannot be competitive because we do nothing with regard to this sector
Experts’ opinion is not taken into account
Our rivals advance rapidly and we remain idle
When experts speak, we should carefully listen to them and seriously reflect upon what they say. Particularly anyone holding posts of responsibility and is in power should see take experts seriously into account and have them as their guides. In our case Glafkos Kariolou is the expert and gave us a really revealing interview. Mr Kariolou is European Commission honorary ambassador for maritime affairs and an expert in shipyard and marina management. He illustrates with an expert’s tone the issue of nautical tourism, persperctives, Cyprus’ disadvantages but also its advantages that remain unexploited. A sea-lover himself and an expert in this field, he concludes with the wish that someday we develop nautical culture and consciousness. Mr Kariolou describes the current situation in Cyprus with a pessimistic tone and mentions that lack of any activity in nautical tourism makes Cyprus lose profit.
He points out that we can not call ourselves “competitors” in relation to other countries which develop this type of tourism, because there is no relevant activity in our country. Occasional initiatives regarding constructions of some marinas are only panic reactions and can not fill any gaps.
- How is nautical tourism defined and what is its current status in Cyprus?
Nautical tourism is a sub-sector of “Aquatic Tourism” and falls into seawater tourism. In fact it has to do with ships, which means use of any sea-going vessel for a great number of tourism services such as (a) journeys on coastal vessels, (b) high speed crafts rental at beaches, (c) cruise tourism, (d) rental of ocean-going sailboats and motor yachts (skippered or bareboat), (e) rental of vessels for flotilla activity, (f) underwater tourist journeys and tours in underwater wreckages with submarine tourist vessels and many more similar activities. Nautical tourism in Cyprus is at an extremely low level.
- Did nautical tourism in Cyprus enter a new stage with the planned construction of marinas ? Will they fill any gaps, since our country relies greatly on tourism and nautical tourism should be an important part of it?
No, we can not really say yet that nautical tourism entered a new stage, because there was no stage before! We will be able to make such a statement only after Limassol marina is built. I cannot understand why you speak of “marinas” in plural, since the only project that has actually begun is the construction of Limassol marina. Perhaps, theoretically speaking, we could say that nautical tourism will really begin for Cyprus only after marinas in Pafos, Limassol, Larnaca and Ayia Napa are built, intermediate nodes of nautical tourism network are constructed, namely the small port in Pissouri, the upgrade of Paralimni fishing shelter to a marina, the expansion of the fishing shelters in Agios Georgios of Pegeia, Latsi, Pomos and many more necessary infrastructure projects or better say, nautical tourism “backbone” projects. Only then we will be able to speak of a “new stage”. Today we are still in the “old” one! Personally, I reckon Limassol marina, even with the new fishing shelter in Zygi, can not fill any gap, because it will provide no more than 400 or 500 berths to Cypriot nautical tourists, whereas the situation will remain disappointing for 300 foreign nautical tourists who persistently ask for a mooring berth in Cyprus every year. Limassol marina with its 500 berths and Zygi with another 200 are just a drop in the ocean!
- Could you please outline our main rivals in nautical tourism, like Turkey, Lebanon, Israel or even occupied Cyprus, mentioning their infrastructure and prices?
It would probably take a whole book to do so and you could accuse me of promoting rival destinations if I dared to describe or at least outline Turkey’s strategy in nautical tourism. Turkey is for sure a paradise for nautical tourism in the Mediterranean, if not worldwide. Their dynamism and plans to follow are even greater than those of Croatia, Spain, Italy and other giants in the Mediterranean. For the moment I will speak no further about them and what they do in Kerineia, Gialousa and occupied Cyprus in general. Israel is a naval nation unlike us, but they have weaknesses such as overcrowded berths in their Mediterranean marinas, special social culture and political conditions. As far as Lebanon is concerned, if external factors allowed them to survive and progress, it would definitely be the leading country in tourism and I consider them the most “dangerous” rival, precisely because of the appropriate mentality and human resources they have. Nevertheless, the conditions do not allow Lebanon even to survive, as we can all observe. In fact, no one is our “rival” today, because Cyprus does not provide a single mooring berth for any of the almost six million vessels sailing in the Mediterranean, looking for one place among the existing two millions! When you do not compete at all, you can not have any rivals!
- We saw that Turkey invests huge amounts of money in nautical tourism, nearly 29 billions euro for marinas. What is the respective amount of money in Cyprus?
No minister of any Turkish government ever said “we will not spend a penny for nautical tourism!”. In our country on the contrary, a certain minister in the past not only made such a statement, but he also actually cancelled or halted through laws, legislations and his actions a “Study on the development of nautical tourism in the Republic of Cyprus - 1994”, which had been approved by the Council of Ministers. He event denied the balanced universal notion according to which it is necessary for marinas to be both private and public and he imposed the doctrine of building exclusively private marinas! Therefore, government expenditure on nautical tourism today is no more than a few thousand euros, if any at all, and the worst thing is that all administrations find this convenient and keep following the same policy: they invest no money in nautical tourism and expect private sector to entirely finance it instead. Thus, our seas actually remain unexploited and the country has no nautical culture, no nautical tourism infrastructure and provides no relevant financial resources.
- As an experienced expert in this field, what would you recommend for the development of nautical tourism?
You are probably aware of the fact that Cypriot experts are not allowed to make themselves heard in Cyprus (unless of course, they have been made heard abroad first)! However, since you are kind enough to give me one more chance to present my personal, disappointing, views, I shall say the following:
1. The political establishment of the country should basically realise that there is sea in Cyprus.
2. They should learn how to estimate not only the number of tourists arrivals or the profit per tourist, but also deduct the cost per tourist (financial, social, environmental, etc) out of the profit so that we are at last able to know exactly what is profitable and what is damaging for tourism.
3. Cyprus is an island without a single naturally protected cove, bay etc, therefore we should have infrastructure projects of nautical tourism protection network made instead of expecting that private sector will ever perform them! Marinas, passengers ports, sea access projects (ramps, boatyards, quayside ladders), organised mooring berths and anchor buoys and so on, should be constructed by the Government, at least some of them, if we want to get results in nautical tourism. In Greece, the Department of Passengers Ports (which belongs to the Greek Tourism Organisation) usually constructs the central breakwaters in port projects and then assigns their management either to local authorities (municipalities) or the private sector. The same applies in France or even in the USA, where SOBA (States Organisation of Boating Accesses) manages around 40% of mooring places. These places are under public management because a marina built from scratch is a “High Risk Project” for private sector (as a result of the above-mentioned minister’s policy) particularly with regards to the massive construction cost of the central breakwater and other projects. A marina is usually a “tool”, a tool which helps boost local economy, reduce seasonality (it is full in winter and empty during summer), brings in little profit for itself and great profit for all the rest! It is an absolutely necessary tool for a government (it maximises the influx of foreign currency) in order to support local economies in general. But things are a little different when it comes to private investors, because they can invest less money somewhere else and make by far greater profit, more quickly and with a lower investment risk. No private business wants to make investments and watch local economy profiting instead of themselves!
By Stelios Xouris
Issue 11, June 2011