Those who deal with tourism know Michalis Demosthenous. He has worked in the industry for years and today works as a tourism expert and tourism business consultant. Speaking to “F”, he explains how the problem of lack of human resources, which afflicts the industry, is not current, although he admits that year by year it becomes more intense.
He argues that this is due to the lack of interest of Cypriots in the tourism profession, blaming the industry as a whole. According to Mr. Demosthenous, the lack of Cypriots for staffing the tourism industry is in fact a blow to Cypriot tourism and removes, as he emphasizes, basic weapons for the industry to heal its wounds and breathe. In his interview, Mr. Demosthenous emphasizes the need for training of all those involved in tourism and the need for certification of employees.
READ ALSO: Royal Caribbean has come to stay in Cyprus
Where do you think the problem for the hoteliers is the lack of human resources in the tourism sector?
I have been pointing out the issue of staff shortages in the tourism industry since 2008. Today it seems much more intense and hot. In the economic forum organized by the Ministry of Finance in the Hilton, under Charilaou Stavrakis, I mentioned the following: There is a lack of qualified staff, but no one from the official side has dealt with this issue until today and every year the problem grows.
I note here that one of the main reasons for the lack of Cypriot workers is because some employers do not implement employment contracts and offer individual employment contracts, especially to foreigners, and thus Cypriots are discouraged from continuing in the tourism profession. With these data, the Cypriot workers who have the knowledge, the language, the culture, the local history and the customs and traditions of our place are not attracted to the tourism profession. In addition, for the Cypriot who lives permanently in Cyprus, the tourism profession has become seasonal, because 70% of our tourism businesses, especially from 2012 onwards, go into winter suspension and hibernation. Today, when the COVID 19 allowances have unfortunately been cut in the tourism industry since October 2021, the situation is even more difficult. With these data, Cypriots are discouraged from pursuing the tourism profession. They are pushed to find other professions, more permanent and with more development prospects. After all, going into unemployment for six months is not the best solution to maintain the professional employment of anyone who loves and wants to make a career in the hotel profession. Already, today, some hotels in Famagusta have trouble finding staff and some may not open with the new tourist season, which will be the worst for the advertising effort of the Ministry of Tourism.
The pandemic has seriously injured the tourism industry and the consequences are being paid for by entrepreneurs but much more by staff. Are there any risks in your opinion, in case the problem continues and the lack of interest of the Cypriots in the hotel professions?
The danger is already visible. The problem is growing year by year in the tourism industry, since the Cypriots do not seek to join professionally in this industry. It is clear that, with the decrease of Cypriots in the industry, the visitors are deprived of the traditional Cypriot hospitality. The various foreign workers come to work for a limited period of time, without any professional enthusiasm, while most do not have time to train and dedicate themselves to their duties. So the customer does not receive proper professional service and then does not return to our country and the advertising of our product is lame. That's why we urgently need to fix the base of our services.
In your opinion, how important is the involvement of Cypriots in the tourism professions in terms of the overall picture of the Cypriot tourism product?
The foreign tourist seeks and wants to meet employees from the country he is visiting. The visitor is interested to learn about our history and culture. He is also interested in visiting archeological sites as well as entertainment venues. The lack of such knowledge by employees is a disadvantage for the tourism industry. The lack of local workers in the tourism industry thus hurts the already injured tourism industry the most. It deprives her of basic weapons to heal her wounds to breathe and return to the old glories of previous years.
Could AXIK do more to address the situation regarding the needs of the tourism industry in human resources?
In my speech at the then conference, in 2008, I had mentioned the big mistake that was made when the decision was made to close IXET, in which we had Cypriot students who were trained in Banking, Bar, Reception, Housekeeping, Cooking. Students who, after graduation, manned our tourism industry, with the then employment contracts. Now, with the new structure of AXIK, students complete training in cooking and management in the tourism industry, to become hotel managers or work in related administrative positions, after attending other training. So AXIK does not help us enough to have our own employees in the other departments of the hotel industry, as IXET – the Institute of Hotel and Food Arts did in the past, before it evolved.
The moves of the Ministry of Tourism are correct
How do you see the effort of the Ministry of Tourism to involve in essence the whole society with tourism, especially in the mountains and in the countryside?
The State Department is trying its best and is doing well. The various actions will help address the problem of seasonality and the All inclusive system. The actions with the authentic experiences and the Christmas villages are worth mentioning. Good idea Christmas villages, but we did not have the foreign tourist to visit them, because we did not have enough winter tourism. Mountainous Cyprus, however, wants entirely new hotel units. The units in the mountains today are obsolete. Now some hotel units have started to be built. One such, with 14 suites in fact, is expected to open its gates in June. The professionalism of employees in essential training must also be established and implemented. The owners of tourism businesses and their employees must receive special training in matters of Tourism Consciousness, Traditional Hospitality, Familiarity with the tourist and cultural Cyprus, Professional Behavior, Professional duties of all departments, as well as serving wine and wine.
What we can and must change in the tourism industry
You have been involved in tourism for years. What do you think are the main challenges facing the sector today?
The need to train all those who serve the tourism industry. Education and training is necessary for all those involved in the tourism industry. Involved in hotels, restaurants, tourist accommodation, agritourism accommodation, villas, taxi drivers, bus drivers, car rental workers, museums, traffic wardens, police, lifeguards, everyone involved must be trained.
We must also, here and now, establish the tourism policy of the industry with bills for the strict implementation of their provisions. In addition, the categorizations of hotels should be introduced very soon and, lastly, the certifications of the employees in the professional qualifications of the tourism industry should be established with a relevant bill.
This could become a point of view of our country, that our staff in the tourism industry is trained. We have never promoted the professionalism of the human factor, so that the tourist visitor knows that he will receive impeccable service.
Other important points that need to be considered for the effective upgrade of the tourist product of Cyprus are the following: the modernization of food units and tourist enterprises, the setting of a maximum selling price for basic necessities, the solution of the problem of noise pollution and cleanliness, the development of winter and alternative tourism: Agritourism, Walking Tourism, Sport Tourism, Wedding Tourism, Gastronomic Tourism, Medical Tourism, Oenology Tourism, Environmental Tourism, Poultry Tourism, Fishing Tourism, Manufacturing Tourism, Wellness Tourism, Tourism Tourism, History and Culture religious events, Ecotourism, Gastronomic, etc. And also, the promotion of new infrastructure projects in communities and cities, which help their attendance, such as public toilets, the care of road signs in tourist areas and areas proper and functional facilities on the beaches, such as showers, changing rooms, toilets and access to people with disabilities, upgrading the maintenance and cleanliness of public toilets in cities, construction of toilets on highways, the establishment of the local community. During the winter, all employees who are unemployed should receive rapid training of additional knowledge in essential training courses.
Finally, employees in the tourism industry must speak other foreign languages. Not just English and a little Russian. We should have had more German-speaking and French-speaking employees. Crete, because most employees in the tourism industry speak German, receives more than one million arrivals from Germany each year.