In Limassol, a seaside town of 100,000 inhabitants in southern Cyprus, Russians are usually everywhere, so much so that the city has been nicknamed “Limassolgrad”. About 18,000 nationals are permanently settled on the eastern Mediterranean island. Newspapers, TV channels, Russian schools… they have created an enclave in the city. In summer, Russian tourists flock in and add to this community that has been established since the fall of the USSR in the early 1990s.
The station welcomes between 60% and 70% of Russian-speaking customers each year. So when Haris Theocharous, owner of the GrandResort, a luxurious 255-room hotel, learned on television of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, he panicked. A few days before the reopening, the 50-year-old is struggling to prepare the establishment and find new partnerships with European tour operators. But he fears a “catastrophic season, even worse than the two previous years with the Covid-19 “.
In Cyprus, Russian tourists are the second largest contingent after the British. “They represent 20% of arrivals per year and in revenue, they bring half a billion euros to the local economy. This year, we expect to lose almost all of that market,” explains Savvas Perdios, Deputy Minister for Tourism. Over the past three years, the country has tried to reduce this dependence: new direct air lines connect Israel, the countries of Central and Northern Europe.
“The cost of sanctions will be enormous”
For the Russian ambassador in Nicosia, Stanislav Osadchiy, who did not appreciate that the government of President Nicos Anastasiades denounced the Russian invasion in Ukraine, Cyprus “shot in the foot” by supporting European sanctions. “ Where will Cyprus find its Russian tourists? Where will they go? In Turkey, is that what you want? », he told Cypriot channel Sigma TV. “It would be normal for Turkey to apply the same sanctions as the European Union [UE] so that Russian tourists do not flock, for example, to the north of the island of Cyprus occupied since 1974 by the Turks. We could reconsider the ban on Russian flights to Cyprus,” indicates Savvas Perdios.
Despite the historical and religious ties between Cyprus and Russia, the Cypriot president declared himself “in solidarity with all Europeans” in the aftermath of the Russian attack in Ukraine and supported all sanctions, including the closure of airspace to Russian planes. “But for us in Cyprus, the cost of these sanctions will be enormous. The other markets we have tried to develop in recent years will not be able to cover the losses, as we come out of two years of Covid-19 where tourist arrivals had already decreased by 50%”, notes, bitterly, the president of the hoteliers of Cyprus, Philokypros Roussounides.
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