Religious tourism to boost property

We never thought religion would be a source of tourist attraction. And yet, Russians, Ukrainians, Copt Egyptians and nationals of other Orthodox countries, did indeed show an additional interest in Cyprus based partly on religion.

We are now experiencing a renewed interest, mainly from Russians and Russian-speaking tourists. It seems some of these nations are more religious than we are, in the sense that they treat the Church with much more respect than we do.

Hence, during the course of business (property sales and so forth) we get a lot of enquiries regarding religious places to visit, especially for out-of-the-way chapels, usually found in a beautiful location, on hills and even right on the beach. We decided to seek the Archbishop’s help on the matter and, to our surprise, were introduced to the youthful Bishop of Mesaoria, who informed us the Church actually has a website (www.churchofcyprus.org.cy) in four languages on the topic. He told us that for even one or two people wishing to visit any chapel at a reasonable time, he would arrange a tour through the local church representative, at no cost, although a small contribution of, say Euros 30 � our suggestion � would be appreciated.

Following this meeting, we thought to place these outings on our website and offer this facility as well through the Bishop. Of course, we are aware there are no set excursions for such religious visits, but can be easily arranged for individual groups or persons willing to rent a car. The Bishop said there are approximately 3,000 such chapel visits every year, in addition to visits to town churches.

Meanwhile, at one of the projects we manage at Pissouri, we built a small chapel called Saint Demitrios, which was fully decorated by a British artist � one of the project’s local residents. The chapel bell was gifted by a Russian resident and a number of local icons donated by locals. Alas, the Paphos Bishopric forbids religious activities to take place there, since the site must belong to the Bishopric and not to individuals (in this case, to the whole project) � although, in the case of non-Cypriots, we suspect weddings, christenings and so forth, could potentially take place there.

Regardless, this is a major attraction for the project and we have already had two engagements (exchanges of vows) there, with two christenings pending. We are now hoping to organise an Easter celebration in the churchyard, including the presence of the local priest (he has yet to confirm) and a Limassol choir � if a little money can be found for the event.

We cannot say we have sold more properties than had we not built this chapel, but it is an element people are coming to appreciate more and more. Who knows how all this will progress in future?

Meanwhile, we tend to associate all Russian speakers with Russian nationals, but, had the recent troubles not occurred, Ukrainians would have formed the majority of Russian speakers in terms of home purchases/investment. On the one hand, we can argue the troubles will encourage wealthy Ukrainians to seek permanent residency/passports under the Cyprus regulations, but, while such a development would be welcome, it is not a sustainable source of demand. Everything emanates from tourists and is then followed by real estate investments.

It is beyond us how, for example, Crete, with its 2 million-plus tourists (equivalent to Cyprus’ numbers) draws 1 million Germans, whereas Cyprus attracts only about 100,000. Germany, which has large numbers of its WWII troops buried in Cretan cemeteries, is still (quite rightly) sending tourists to Crete, so then why not to Cyprus? Asked on this matter, a German tour operator said Cyprus has too many Russians, which was unappealing to their clients. So? Where is the problem when they are the least troublesome tourists and the highest spenders? Should we build a few chapels for the German tourists/residents to be?

We also seem to have ignored UK-based tour operators and, with British tourist numbers falling yearly, the Cyprus Government has undertaken a charm offensive in the hope of spurring a renewal of Brit interest in civil weddings in chapels as well as christenings.

Of course, during the Eighties’ tourism boom Cyprus was particularly in demand by northern European countries, especially Sweden. There was a time we set up an office in Stockholm, and even employed two Swedish sales staff in Cyprus to cope with demand. Now Swedish buyers are almost nowhere to be found.

With today’s difficult circumstances, and with Egypt and other Mediterranean Arab countries having lost a large share of their tourists, it’s time to find the route to recovery. One of the reasons for Cyprus’ failure, we are told, is the restriction on chartered flights; as proof of this, Crete, despite having no direct flights still attracts the same numbers of tourists as Cyprus. The protection that past Governments had offered Cyprus Airways, limiting chartered flights, cost us dearly for the sake of, say, 2,000 Cyprus Airways jobs.

Source: In-Cyprus