Noel Josephides writes a fortnightly article for the travel trade publication ‘Travel Bulletin’

February 5 2010

I HAVE JUST returned from a week on avery rainy and cold Cyprus. The weather across the globe has becomeso unpredictable. First it’s winter temperatures in the high 20s and then torrential rains and cold weather. Anyway, at least the dams are filling up nicely, which is just what the island needed.

I went to further discussions between the Cyprus Tourist Office, The Travel Foundation and the Cyprus Sustainable Tourism Initiative (CSTI). The CSTI is a Cyprus based charity, which was founded by The Travel Foundation and has been doing some very good work in various fields.

In a pilot project in 2008, 67 hotels saved more than 600,000 euros over six months through water and energy-saving initiatives.

Last year CSTI organised a very successful conference, along with the University of Cyprus, to look at waste management onthe island and, over the last three years, six self-drive Village Routes have been developed. These itineraries have helped to introduce the visitor to the island and have provided income for local producers based in the villages. What is being planned now is more far reaching and designed to be embedded in the very culture of the local tourism product. If we pull it off,the initiative will make Cyprus a model for sustainable tourism and help restore its popularity.

I can already hear the yawns from those who think that anything to do with sustainability in tourism is a total waste of time. Well, how can Cyprus repair the damage that has been caused by too much mass tourism and over development? Cyprus is no longer in fashion and Turkey, Morocco, Egypt, Croatia and even Malta have overtaken it in the popularity stakes. The island is expensive, a comment that all visitors make. In the region of 40,000 foreigners, mostly British, have bought homes on the island and there is gross over building and thousands of unsold development homes.

The very nature of Cyprus has been changed. Unfortunately, the Cypriots never learned from the mistakes of Spain and willnow have to go through the same soul-searching to re-launch the island. For a long time they thought that they would wake up one day and find the tourists pouring in as they did in the mid’90s. So what can be done? First of all, it must be realised that there is no quick fix. You can’t tear down what has been built and you can’t wave a magic wandand make everything cheaper in the shops, hotels and restaurants. What we must do is make Cyprus good value for money and that we can only do by raising both environmental and infrastructure standards.

Cyprus has many advantages over other destinations. First of all it’s very English, as it was a colony for many years. The justice system and government are all modelled on the UK. The island is safe, a home from home but with sunshine and a warm sea. UK tour operators therefore cannot afford to lose Cyprus because it offers the most stable conditions in the Eastern Mediterranean. More than 250,000 Cypriots live and work in the UK and everyone on the island can speak English. It’s therefore to everyone’s advantage to make Cyprus a model for sustainability. Hotels can save millions of Euros by working with one eye on their environmental performance.

The island’s culture has to be protected and traditional values respected. Waste disposal and recycling has to become second nature and Cypriots must learn to see Cyprus as visitors see it. If Cyprus can re-create itself as Spain has done, then visitors will not resent paying a little more because they will see the difference between Cyprus and other destinations.

What Cyprus cannot do is hope that a fairy godmother will appear and make everything right again. To do nothing is no longer an option.

Noel Josephides is the Managing Director of Sunvil Holidays