Cyprus has rebounded from its crisis and has exceeded expectations to become one of the fastest-growing countries of the Eurozone. Alongside the recovering economy, the country’s tourism sector saw a record-breaking 3.6 million tourists in 2017. The Orthodoxou Group has successfully identified needs in the Cypriot market as it expands to become a major player in the country’s tourism industry.
Mr. Antonis Orthodoxou, the group’s managing director – and a young, charismatic, Cypriot entrepreneur – outlined the group’s development, beginning in 1995 when he founded a one-man travel and recruitment service in Lacarna. Since then, the Orthodoxou Group has deepened its original focus while branching out into other areas of travel, insurance, and tourism services. Today it is comprised of eleven companies that together employ over 200 people, with operations spanning Cyprus and Bulgaria.
However, the company came from humble beginnings. “The beginning of the company, it was me,” Mr. Orthodoxou said. “I know exactly all the steps, even how to make bookings for a ticket, or how to hand in their cabin bag at the airport, or how to advertise, because there was a time that all of this was being done by me.” Now built into a major enterprise, many of the company’s employees have been working with Mr. Orthodoxou for over a decade, several of whom have reached management positions. “The key people…they grew with the company and they got these titles because they are very good,” he explains. “Everyone within the company has a second home and they feel that it is like their family. And this shows to anyone you talk to.”
The group has recently grown with the founding of Orthodoxou Aviation, which became the exclusive representative of the Romanian airline Blue Air when they moved into the Cypriot market in 2008. Mr. Orthodoxou notes that Blue Air took a risk by naming an inexperienced firm as their general sales agent in Cyprus, since Orthodoxou Aviation had never before represented an airline. The risk, however, paid off for both parties, as Blue Air has expanded its Cypriot operations while Orthodoxou Aviation has since developed its reputation and grown the portfolio of airlines it works with. “He also saw the opportunity,” Mr. Orthodoxou recalls from his first meeting with the Blue Air’s CEO of the time, “[he saw that] Orthodoxou and Blue Air had the same vision and the same target so I think that’s why this became bigger and bigger and we created a lot of things together.”
Blue Air garnered a lot of valuable information from the Orthodoxou Group on how to become a winning enterprise with Cypriot passengers as well as international travellers in Southern Europe. “We told them you are a Romanian company, you will always be a Romanian company, but in Cyprus we have to show our Cypriot face.” Today the country aims to help all passengers experience Cyprus while still en route to their destination, ensuring that all crewmembers speak Greek and providing all passengers with Cypriot food on the plane. “When the tourists arrive in Cyprus,” Mr. Orthodoxou says, “before we say goodbye, we say goodbye with Commandaria and soujouko” – traditional Cypriot wine and sweets.
The closing of Cyprus Airways, the country’s national carrier, in 2015 led to predictions of reduced connectivity for the island nation – but on the flip side also opened up new opportunities in the market. Mr. Orthodoxou explains that Orthodoxou Group urged Blue Air to begin basing aircraft in Cyprus, “to make this airline not only a Romanian airline but also a Cypriot airline.” In addition to flights to Thessaloniki and Athens in Greece and Bucharest and Cluj-Napoca in Romania, Blue Air has also begun direct flights from Cyprus to Tel Aviv, Israel. With the growth of the tourism sector in Cyprus, the airline has decided to focus on the UK as a priority market, and currently runs direct flights between Cyprus and London Luton, Birmingham, and Liverpool. “At the moment it looks like there is a big opportunity in the market, a big gap. Because everybody knows that UK played the first role in Cyprus tourism industry.”
The group’s success has come in part from adapting to changing trends in travel and tourism that present both challenges and opportunities. Mr. Orthodoxou points out that in recent years tourists have begun taking longer holidays, seeing several countries over the course of one vacation rather than taking short trips focused on single countries. He suggests that regional players in Southern Europe coordinate tourism across the region, and create programs of travel across multiple countries, to boost not only the Cypriot economy but also that of Europe as a whole. “I see this as an opportunity for some countries to come together and to prepare one program, maybe three days in Cyprus….10 days in Greece…..five days in Spain or in Portugal.”
Growing tourism from China adds to this phenomenon. “One of the biggest countries that we have to target in Cyprus is China.” Mr. Orthodoxou notes that Chinese tourists are less likely to travel long distances to Europe for short trips and prefer to spend several weeks touring the region. As a result, regional cooperation would help the Southern European tourism industry take advantage of the increasing number of tourists from both China and Asia as a whole.
Mr. Orthodoxou notes that while political instability and the financial crisis have negatively impacted Cyprus’s reputation, he has an ongoing optimistic outlook on tourism and investment prospects, ensuring that the crisis is in the past, country is very safe, and its banking system and service sector are very professional. “Come and see the opportunities,” he added. “Don’t close your eyes on the opportunities in Cyprus.”