Cyprus is a popular holiday destination that every summer welcomes more tourists than it has inhabitants. Sun, sea and night life draw herds of English, Germans and Scandinavians to the island but also tourists from Thailand, India and the Middle East. The holiday infrastructure in Cyprus is built on all-inclusive package holidays, leaving few opportunities for backpacking or discount travel. But how do Cypriots themselves pass their holidays and where?
August is a busy month in Cyprus. Owners of pubs, clubs, restaurants and hotels work overtime, but most other Cypriots take it easy. People working in the office are on Summer holiday, while children and students are free off school. Employers in the hospitality seldomly employ Cypriots, because immigrants are likely to do the same job better and for a higher pay, especially under favourable weather conditions. The interruption of social life during the month of August gives Cypriots a one-month opportunity to escape the island.
..likes the adventurous kind of travel
As it quickly turns out, Greece is a very popular location for people to spend their summer holidays. Chris (30) goes to Athens at least once or twice a year. `For clubbing`, he says. Chris thinks that Greece is a suitable destination because the language and culture are similar to those of Cyprus ? a reasoning many people share. Another motive for people to travel to Greece is because they have overseas friends or relatives. Also, Greece is synonymous with shopping for girls and partying for guys. The Greek capital Athens is much more of a world city than any location in Cyprus, and many people like to experience the freedom of anonymity while keeping themselves surrounded by familiarities.
Unfortunately, ferry services between Cyprus and Greece were all cancelled a few years ago, leaving air connections as the only access to Greece. Competition between airlines is limited, which means a flight to Greece can hardly be obtained for less than 200 euros, even though it`s only an hour away. Flights to England are likely to be much cheaper and the corresponding tickets can often be booked without accommodation included: a perfect way for Cypriots to visit friends and relatives who study or work in England. Such return trips are however more common during the low-season than in summer. During high-season, it`s the English who come to Cyprus, and the Cypriots who live in the UK return home.
Beside Greece and England, many people set foot for neighbouring Egypt, Israel and Lebanon. All three countries are served by cruise ships, oftentimes even in a single multi-day trip. Some packages propose a three-day trip that leads tourists along the pyramids of Egypt on day one, to Haifa and Jerusalem (by bus) on day two and to Lebanon on day three.
It can hardly be called surprising that one other nearby country welcomes very few Cypriot tourists: Turkey. Some people would like to see Istanbul, but rather as the former capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, Constantinopel, than as a Turkish metropolitan city. With the Turkish occupation of the North of Cyprus as a precedent, one needs little imagination to conclude that Cypriots would prefer to go almost anywhere in the world but Turkey. Border controls are moreover said to be very selective, so those who do want to pay a visit will also think twice. They do have the logistical advantage that they can take a low-cost ferry to their destination. On the other hand, they would first have to cross the Occupied Territory, and implicitly recognise its independence, before gaining access to the ferry. Many Cypriots consider that one bridge too far.
Until recently, long-haul destinations only suited people fleeing the Turkish occupation of the North in 1974. But traveling Thailand has recently become a popular destination for honeymoons, while groups of young men are starting to discover Russia as a nice place to find female company.
Easy does it for most Cypriot tourists. They have a natural tendency to book holidays similar to the ones offered on their own island: package deals. If possible, Cypriots consult their local friend the travel agent who tells them where they should go and which all-in package will work out best. Few Cypriots put together their own holidays; they much rather pay one price for a whole program than having to organise their holiday on location.
Independent, adventurous and/or open-ended traveling is uncommon. Instead, Cypriots mostly prefer to travel in groups, unless their journey purely consists of visiting a friend abroad. Being married and traveling without a partner, as happens frequently in Finland, is hardly acceptable. Once married, people travel together ? whether or not in a group with even more friends.
Every rule has its exceptions, and so I also found somebody who does travel to explore rather than to lie on the beach. Egypt will soon welcome Dino (29, photo), a fanatic backpacker. Dino has 10 days to spend in Egypt without any proper planning: `And during the summer, I would like to go to South-East Asia, preferably to Tibet and Mongolia. There is something about those places, something that lives down. I just bought a new digital SLR photo camera, and I am anxious to start recording my experiences.`
Kyriakos (23) also has some big plans. His upcoming holiday will not get him further than a cruise along some Greece islands, as part of a group of seven friends. Kyriakos will use his studies as an excuse to look beyond the package deal holidays: `I am studying Communications and will make sure I obtain my master`s degree in London and hopefully in New York.`
Compared to many other European citizens, Cypriots allow themselves few opportunities to really get to know other countries or cultures. Only in their early 20`s can they get away with trips that may incorporate some cultural exchange, rather than pre-booked fun with a group of friends. The phenomenon internet adds another dimension to intercultural relations, but many people only get to know it once they use it during their studies. For people who do not have a chance to study, the world will remain delimited by the Mediterranean Sea in the South and the Turkish occupants in the north. Plus Greece at 200 euros away.
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