The gradual recovery of tourism, which actually began in the summer of 2021, is also reflected in the data of Hermes Airports, the managing company of Larnaca and Paphos airports, for the passenger traffic at the two Cypriot airports, which last year exceeded 5 million passengers, just 2 million in 2020, reaching 45% of 2019 which was the last reference year before the pandemic.
Maria Kouroupi, Senior Director of Aviation Development, Marketing & Communication at Hermes Airports, talks to “F” about the improvement and stability in the travel movement brought by the vaccination and the Green Certificate, with the real impetus to start the summer and “take off “October, which was the best month of last year in terms of passenger traffic. He explains the actions that contributed to maintaining the connectivity of Cyprus during this difficult period and expresses optimism that, if there is no setback in terms of the pandemic and its mutations, we will gradually lead to recovery and stability. A significant increase was recorded in 2021 in private flights (jets) that even surpassed those of the pre-Corona era, while the pandemic seems to change the preferences of travelers, who are looking for destinations that offer authentic experiences with diversity in the product, which, the Cyprus, according to Ms. Kouroupi, can cover.
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Despite the continuation of the pandemic in 2021, passenger traffic recorded an increase on an annual basis and moved close to your estimates and to about 50% of the traffic in 2019. Does the final result for 2021 leave you satisfied?
2021 ended with 5.1 million arriving and departing passengers, a number that accounts for approximately 45% of 2019 passenger traffic. the airlines, it was up to the epidemiological data and the measures of each country. Over time, there was a substantial improvement, but also a stability, which was helped by both the vaccination and the arrival of the Green Certificate. These two factors contributed significantly to the very good performance of the passenger traffic in the summer months, but also in October, which according to the data was, in terms of passenger traffic, the best month of last year, with passengers reaching almost one million . Despite the pandemic data and the various mutations that occur, we remain optimistic, although there is a long way to go to reach pre-pandemic levels.
The recovery that took place last year was recently recorded by Eurostat, announcing that Cyprus had the third smallest decrease in passenger flights in December and further that our country was among those that showed last year the biggest signs of recovery in terms of the number of flights. What were the main reasons that contributed to this recovery?
Cyprus is among the European countries with the smallest reduction in passenger flights in 2021, although in absolute numbers the reduction was greater, as I mentioned earlier. A series of actions both by Hermes Airports, but also by other tourism operators and especially the joint actions and the coordinated effort that developed all this time helped to a good result. From the first moment of the pandemic, the most requested and the biggest challenge we had to face was the restoration of the flight program and the connectivity of Cyprus, which is why we were in constant contact with the airlines. Since June 2020, when travel started again timidly, we have had a pluralistic flight program, with the activation of different airline models and the goal of focusing on markets of tourist interest. At the same time, we are constantly emphasizing the effort to maintain the connectivity of Cyprus, covering any gaps that arise. In addition to the contacts with the airlines, for ten years now we have been providing different incentive plans for the airlines, so that they include Cyprus in their flight program. At the same time, we run joint marketing campaigns to support demand. Also important factors were the good epidemiological picture that Cyprus presented for a long time, during the prolonged summer, but also the targeted internet campaigns that were carried out in collaboration with other tourist institutions of Cyprus to attract tourists.
Do you think that this gradual recovery will continue?
As I told you before, we choose to see the glass half full. As Hermes Airports, we remain optimistic, as the messages we receive from the airlines are encouraging and if there is no setback in terms of the pandemic and its mutations, we will gradually lead to recovery and stability.
Were there any changes in travel in general to and from Cyprus last year compared to the period before the pandemic?
Certainly there have been changes both in terms of procedures and prerequisites as well as in relation to the airlines and the profile of the passengers. The various protocols that have been implemented internationally, the constant changes, the new procedures have created a new model that the world is now beginning to get used to. Of course, in the medium term, common practices and recommendations for the entire travel chain will need to be established, otherwise various inhibitory factors may be triggered. In airlines we are already seeing several changes with an increasing sensitivity to costs and profitability of routes. Therefore, one would expect that in the next period there will be pressure both on the airports and on the tourist operators to support the creation of demand in order to maintain routes. Airfare prices are likely to rise somewhat, especially as pressures on industry to invest in more environmentally friendly technologies and practices increase. In addition, it seems that the pandemic is changing the preferences of travelers who are looking for destinations that offer authentic experiences, with a variety of products. It seems that we are moving away from the simple visit (tick off the bucket list), while the category of travelers who want to live quality experiences without slow tourism is developing further. Cyprus definitely has all the backgrounds to develop comparative advantages in terms of these changes without deleting more traditional customer categories.
Covid-19 brought more jets (and) to Cyprus
The pandemic, according to foreign media, seems to have caused a significant increase in the use of private jets for travel by those who obviously have the financial means for such a thing. Has a similar increase been observed at the airports of Cyprus?
Indeed, in Cyprus there was an increase in private jet flights, which is around 33%. In 2021, more than 6,400 private jets flew from Larnaca and Paphos airports, in contrast to 2019, the last “normal” year before the pandemic, where about 4,800 private jets flew.