-by John Richards
e live in an ever changing world for sure, but in terms of economics of business, almost nothing has changed as much as the tourism industry has over the last few years. Once the saviour of many a small-island economy, income from tourism now languishes, while people’s hard-earned money is channelled to necessities like paying the mortgage, rather than luxuries like holidays. Many of the world’s larger economies are in a fairly perilous state and overall consumer spending has been reduced across the board, particularly in Great Britain and the United States. Leisure pursuits and travel are two of the first things to suffer in any financial slow-down and where people might have once taken one main holiday and a couple of additional breaks, it is now far more likely for couples or families to concentrate on one vacation, or even to just stay at home.
And those are just the primary economic factors. The ever-growing popularity and expanding content of the internet also means that traditional travel agents and tour operators are being forced into a much lesser position of importance in the market. Up to a few years ago, most UK clients would have walked into a high street travel agent to book any holiday or would have contacted a tour operator directly. With the exception of a very few adventurous individuals, that was the way the entire market operated.
The world wide web has turned that business model on its head in only a few short years. Nowadays, the majority of travellers feel perfectly at ease with the concept of a ‘do it yourself’ holiday; sitting at home and using computers for booking flights, accommodation and even taxis to and from the airport.
But this need not be all doom and gloom to hotels. Particularly for the UK market, parts of the Mediterranean region are seeing either a small upturn in tourism, or at least a level of stability. Many customers are forsaking long-haul destinations and turning again to the once-fashionable resorts closer to home. For a start, with current oil prices, the cost of travel is disproportionately lower for short-haul as opposed to long-haul. Not to mention the particular bonus of reduced travel time. And in these ecologically conscious days, the thought of reducing our carbon footprint in some way or other gives closer holiday destinations an additional feel-good factor. The Mediterranean was where the British package holiday trend originated, now it is once again becoming the darling of the travelling set. Nowhere is this more evident than in North Cyprus, but here at least, the trend has an additional factor.
Many companies, often international hotel chains, have seen the opportunity in North Cyprus to expand and build massive resorts and/or ultra-luxury hotel complexes. These have had some success, but mainly appear to appeal to the visitor from southern Europe, or indeed the traveller who already lives in the region. For the UK market in particular, it is not these large hotels, but the smaller, family-run type of properties that seem to hold the key to success. For example, in Northern Cyprus (The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, to be more formal) the big ‘multi-star’ rated hotels are usually occupied mainly by a mixture of guests from mainland Turkey, Germany and the Soviet states these days, whilst the country’s medium sized resorts and hotels tend to be suffering from substantially reduced occupancy levels. However, the handful of high-quality, small, boutique-style properties are benefitting from an influx of British clientele who have set their sights on the southern Mediterranean once again.
Small Cyprus hotels, and indeed, small Mediterranean hotels in general, are therefore enjoying an unexpected level of success in these dark economic times. Mind you, getting the formula right is far from easy. There is always a balance to be struck in the way a hotel is run. Being family-owned is one thing, but appearing amateurish is definitely not the right way to go about it. The best of the small Mediterranean hotels have got this part absolutely right, combining friendly and attentive service with a level of professionalism that would shame many a large establishment. Added to this winning formula is the simple fact that smaller hotels take up less room and as a result, are more likely to be located in scenic areas, rather than the centre, or outskirts, of larger towns.
It is not always easy to discover the best small Mediterranean hotels. Personal recommendation is always a good way, but to be fair, you might not like the same hotels I do, and vice versa. A good time searching the internet is probably the safest bet, though a word of caution. Many of the supposed independent reviews posted on traveller’s websites may not be all they seem. Despite the best efforts of independent review sites, it is hardly the work of a genius to add spurious, or commercially-minded comments.
There is a good chance of genuine comments if there are sufficient reviews, but looking at the hotel’s own website will at least give some clues. Are there sufficient pictures? Does the site look professional (or at least, competent)? Are there clear contact details? The size of these properties often means that they will not have a functional on-line booking system, but there should at least be a simple way to contact and make an enquiry.
At the end of it, there is always an element of risk when booking a ‘new’ place to stay. Of course, to many of us, this is part of the fun. At the very least, travelling closer to home means that the financial consequences of getting it wrong are much less burdensome than they could be. Arriving at a hotel after a four hour flight and finding it wasn’t what you expected is not the happiest of experiences, but discovering you have made an awful mistake following a twenty-two hour flight is a whole different dimension.
When it comes to tourism, the times they are indeed a-changing, but to many travellers weary of the impersonal ‘luxury’ offered by the massive resorts, they are a-changing for the better. Make the most of it while they still have space for you!
About John Richards
John has been a frequent visitor to Cyprus, and the entire Mediterranean region, for many years. For North Cyprus hotels he recommends A1 Cyprus. (www.a1cyprus.com)
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