The tourist industry in Cyprus has been quick to recover following the economic shock of early 2013. Today the sector – which focuses on providing a high-end visitor experience – is very much open for business, with opportunities in such special interest areas as medical, sports, nautical and agro tourism, conferences, theme parks and managed attractions.

“We saw a dramatic decrease in the flow of reservations during the early days of the crisis,” says Yiorgos Lakkotrypis, the country's minister of energy, commerce, industry and tourism. “But we’ve managed to reverse it, so we’re expecting a very similar year to 2012 in terms of arrivals, but with higher revenue for the country because the mix of tourism means that there is more per capita spending.”

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The World Economic Forum’s 2013 Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report reveals that Cyprus is still near the top of the sector’s key index, ranking 29th overall out of 140 countries. The country is ranked 22nd by its travel and tourism regulatory framework and 21st by its business environment and infrastructure.

Season extension

The government is now focusing its efforts on extending the tourism season beyond its already popular summer months with the aim of adding to the 2.4 million holidaymakers that currently visit the island every year. In November 2013, it agreed an Open Skies deal with the Russian authorities, which frees flight and landing rights between the two countries. This will help attract tourists all year round. “This will help us extend the tourism season from six or seven months to eight or nine months,” says Mr Lakkotrypis.

Marinas, golf courses and an integrated resort casino are being created to meet the year-round needs of this new wave of overseas visitors. Developments include major luxury marina projects in the coastal cities of Limassol, Ayia Napa and Larnaca, plus there are plans to award permits to expand the number of 18-hole golf courses in the country from four to 11.

Medical tourism

Cyprus is well positioned to capitalise on the growing international demand for medical and wellness treatments. Back in 2010, a Cyprus Tourism Organisation study estimated that 60,000 health travellers had visited the island that year alone.

This sector could also benefit from the EU directive on crossborder healthcare, which came into effect in October 2013. This extends freedom of choice in healthcare to Europeans looking for alternative solutions and treatments abroad.

The country’s strategic location, mild Mediterranean climate, network of high-standard hospitals and clinics staffed by internationally educated doctors, not to mention luxury hotels and a multilingual population, make it an ideal place for healthcare tourists to visit for stress-free treatments.

It has six state general hospitals and about 80 private hospitals and clinics. Its wellness offerings are enhanced by numerous thermal springs, spas and therapy centres. And thanks to the exceptional properties of its waters, both thermal and sea, the island’s thalassotherapy services look set to expand.

“Medical and wellness are something we want to promote, particularly to northern countries that lack sunshine in the winter,” says Mr Lakkotrypis. “With just a three-hour flight, you can go from minus 20 to plus 20 degrees. We’ve been working closely with the Ministry of Health to put together the case for medical tourism and to show the benefits of the sun. This could be very attractive for health insurance funds and what we offer could help patients who suffer from psychological problems caused by lack of sun.”