Journalism graduate, waitress in Cyprus

The moment you step off the plane, on Hermes Airport in Larnaca, you can see that for Cypriots, attracting foreign tourists is almost a credo – you can see people dangling their keys offering lodging in their homes, or advertisements of accommodations showing their Easter break rates or tens of stores where everything is branded “Love Cyprus”. The country poured a jaw-dropping €50 million in a new passenger terminal at international standards that was completed in November 2009.

“After the facelift, the airport has the capacity to handle up to 9 million passengers, significantly above current air traffic. The annual average is 4-5 million passengers”, said Phoebe Katsouris (photo), chief executive of Cyprus Tourism Organization.

In the cluster of stores, coffee shops and restaurants in the shopping area of Cyprus’ largest airport – apart from Larnaca, Cyprus has another airport in Paphos, a city with around 54,000 inhabitants – there is a Costa Cofee shop, where to my surprise, the waitress is from Romania. “I came to Cyprus about six months ago, and for two weeks, I have been working here with another Romanian, at Costa Cofee. I graduated from the school of journalism in Romania, but I came to work here as waitress in Cyprus because I couldn’t find a job back in Romania”, says Ana. She added that hey boyfriend was still in Cyprus for more than three years, and works in constructions.

According to data from Cypriot immigration officials, around 5,000-6,000 Romanians work in Cyprus. “Romanians don’t have a good opinion about Cyprus, although they work here. And employers delay paychecks regularly”, the Romanian waitress said.

Due to its geographical position, Cyprus being a 9,251 square kilometers island in the Mediterranean Sea, the Cypriot cuisine is largely based on fish, so the restaurants’ menus brim in all sorts of fish and seafood dishes. And Zephyros restaurant is no exception to the rule. Here too, 2 of the 7 waitpersons are Romanians. “I have been working here for more than two years, and I like it. I go back home in Romania only on vacations, in August”, says Dan, a young man from Oltenita who graduated from Bucharest Academy of Economic Studies.

A stone’s throw away, another restaurant, The Varelli Tavern, employs two Romanian women, one’s a cook and one’s a waitress, while in another city in Cyprus, Limasol, a family of Romanians set up their own souvenirs business.

But why do Romanians love Cyprus? To that question, Cyprus officials have the answer: “The minimum wage in Cyprus is €800, and the average income is €2,000”, said the director of Cyprus Tourism Organization.

Cyprus to spend €87 million to boost tourism

Last year, 2.15 million foreign tourists visited Cyprus, 10% down from 2008. “Even if prices didn’t drop in 2009, like in other countries, the number of tourists remained constant”, Katsouris said.

In order to stimulate growth, Cyprus will invest around €87 million in tourism this year alone. “€50 million of this amount would go to promotion”, she added.

In 2009, tourism accounted for 13% of GDP, and services around 60%. “The majority of tourists come from United Kingdom (1.1 million last year), followed by Russia (150,000) and Greece (132,000),” said Katsouris.

Since Romania is not in the top 20 countries in terms of foreign tourists visiting Cyprus (around 8,000-9,000 last year), tourism officials consider opening an office in Romania, in 2011.

“Since the outburst of financial crisis, tourists chose neighboring locations instead of remote exotic places, in order to save travel costs. And this is why we want to attract more Romanian tourists in Cyprus”, said the managing director of Cyprus Tourism Organization.