Tourism downs towels
By KEREM HASAN
Hoteliers and tourism bosses laid out the sunbeds and towels and brought on a brass band in the centre of Lefkoşa this week –but this was no celebration. Instead, the travel industry staged a noisy, colourful and passionate demonstration to complain that the government was killing the industry.
The protest began with a ‘funeral procession’ in front of the Prime Ministry, carrying a mock coffin with the claim: “Tourism is dead.” Empty suitcases were strewn on the road and banners read: “The locomotive sector has gone off rails” “No tourism means no future” “No tourism means no life” “This is just the First Wave” “We cannot breathe” and “We are on the verge of collapse.”
The Cyprus Turkish Travel Agents’ Union (Kıtsab) handed in a letter demanding nine points of action from the government. Prime Minister Ersin Tatar and tourism minister, Ünal Üstel, promised to address some of the issues. Kıtsab chairman, Orhan Tolun told angry protestors that they were bringing over 1.1 million tourists a year, making a 60 per cent contribution to the economy, and creating employment to 54 sectors linked to tourism.
He told Cyprus Today they staged the protest because they “refused” as travel agents to “go into this coffin.”
“We are being killed,” he said. “The government has completely neglected the tourism sector, when we are the patrons of the economy.”
Mr Tolum said: “We have completely lost this year. We do not anticipate any tourism until April 2021. Tourism isn’t something that just happens. There is no road map as to how things will work in practice. Our travel agents cannot even give an exact date when tourists can fly here. Even for July 1, there is uncertainty for tourists who want to come to the TRNC after this date. Turkish Airlines was supposed to start flying to the TRNC on Tuesday, but it never happened. It is becoming a common feature that the government says something which never materialises.
“Which tourist from which country will be asked to undergo a quarantine period of 14 days, or which one can just take a PCR test which will be sufficient? We still don’t have clear cut answers, whilst the Greek Cypriot side has opened its borders to the entire world and making tourism agreements with countries like Israel.”
Explaining their demands, Mr Tolun added: “We asked for the monthly 1,500TL state support to be paid for the 1,100 or so workers in 170 travel agents until December. The government has said they will pay this until July and to see how things go until then. We asked for social security and provident fund payments to be paid by the state or by a special fund to be created to help our sector, which they are looking into. We also asked for those renting to be excluded from paying rent for April and May (when they were closed).
“We asked for the 20 million TL that has been assigned for tourism in the newly signed Economic and Financial protocol with Turkey – to be used to help travel agents in the form of grants, not loans.
“We asked for the one per cent credit card payments of travel agents, which were introduced to help all credit card holders during the lock down period, to be extended for travel agents for a year.
“We also demanded that all bank loan repayments of travel agents be deferred by a year.We demanded the state pay 170 million TL it owes to the travel agents, which was supposed to be paid since 2017 in the form of incentives for bringing tourists to the country.”
Mr Tolun said that “many” of the demands were either accepted or promises of being “looked into”. “We are willing to give the Government the opportunity.”
He said their most important concern was the absence of a road map for the future to address the uncertainty faced in the sector.
Mr Tatar, who received seven people including Mr Tolun during the protest inside the Prime Ministry in Lefkoşa, came out to address the protestors.
He said there will be “openings” for the tourism sector on July 1 – which he said “was previously announced”. We will be announcing the sort of help to be given to places that are still closed in the Social Solidarity package to be announced on June 15.
“Contributions will be made to the private sector, including to the tourism sector, which will take into consideration the recommendations and evaluations of Kıtsab,” he said.