No one can doubt that 2020 was a year of great uncertainty, during which we had to quickly adjust to a new reality and become more agile to address all the challenges we were suddenly faced with.
We had to survive an unprecedented crisis without knowing the exact depth of the recession we would face or how long it would last. More than a year later we are finally beginning to see some light at the end of the tunnel, although we still don’t know how long the tunnel will prove to be. The trajectory the recovery will follow, which is very important for planning purposes, is still very uncertain. Equally important is the new norm we expect to find when we emerge at the other end of the tunnel. Having come this far and despite the lack of clarity we must now face the most challenging part: managing the next day of the pandemic.
The next day for airports
There is a lot of discussion and debate relating to the next day, some around emerging trends in the industry and what the new norm is likely to be, but also some more immediate concerns such as the risk of travellers having to spend hours at Europe’s airports over the summer due to newly introduced COVID-19 related checks.
This is why many aviation stakeholders, including Hermes Airports, are supporting the adoption of common policies across Europe which will enable passengers to better understand and follow the rules in order to make their journey as smooth as possible. At our two airports in Cyprus (Larnaka and Pafos International airports), we have made all the necessary arrangements to ensure that we are in a position to handle the increased traffic, which is expected in the summer months, adopting the travel related health protocol developed with the Cyprus government on the basis of international best practice. To achieve the desired result, we work very closely with all airport stakeholders including all Government provided services and we have created additional covid-19 test labs for the simultaneous processing of passengers, ensuring in this way a smooth and safe journey for everyone.
Travel protocol and airport processes
Since the second quarter of last year, at Larnaka and Pafos airports we have implemented a wide range of measures based on the travel related health protocol of the government, aiming to create a safe airport environment where passengers will both be and feel as protected as possible. We have applied new cleaning and disinfection methods, installed thermal screening cameras and labs for Covid-19 tests for passengers. We have a productive collaboration with the Ministry of Health and its airport deployed staff, we have worked closely with the Ministry of Transport for the implementation of the Cyprus Flight Pass and with the immigration authorities for the smooth checking of documents. Moreover, we have installed visible signage in all airport areas, whilst announcements are made throughout the airport as a reminder of the measures in effect. We have also invested in the installation of the Tagomat and the Bagomat kiosks, which allow a self-tagging and baggage drop-off process, ensuring a contactless passenger experience, which is an integral part of health and safety and best hygiene practices, especially during the pandemic.
The next day for Tourism Restart
At the same time, we remain focused on the restart of tourism, which is the cornerstone for our country’s economy. It has been a long road with many ups and downs, which entailed a lot of ongoing discussions with the airlines and the rest of the tourism industry, aiming to ensure that we recover as a country and as a tourist destination. Key contributors to these efforts are Hermes Airports’ air service development strategy and the latest restart scheme offered to airlines to share their risk as they reintroduce their flight schedules.
These efforts have borne fruit as we are at a point where we expect to see the return of 50 out of the 70 airlines which operated flights to Cyprus before the pandemic. Larnaka and Pafos airports are starting to see a return to normal rhythms as we are currently welcoming 230 flights per week, a number which is expected to be further increased to 700 in July and August. This year, we expect to reach more than 40% of the passenger traffic recorded in 2019, depending on the epidemiological situation in Cyprus and the lifting of remaining restrictions from the countries where our tourism traffic originates. We realise that we still have a long way to go until we reach the passenger traffic attained before the pandemic, however, we remain committed to bringing back all the airlines and fully restoring our country’s connectivity.
The recent upgrade of Cyprus from the dark red to the orange category by the ECDC, is a further positive development which sets the ground for a quicker recovery of the tourism industry. A return to normal may take time to materialize, however it is tangible, as the national vaccination plan is progressing rapidly with more than 50% of the population in Cyprus vaccinated with at least the first dose of the vaccine and with the positivity rate well under 0.5% for a very large number of covid-19 tests carried out daily. We are committed to ensuring that Cyprus remains a safe destination for tourists and its citizens, following the airport and destination protocols that are in effect.
The Covid-19 pandemic has changed our lives and whisked away many of the certainties we used to have. Despite that, we remain optimistic that all this will become a memory in a few years’ time and that based on the lessons learned we will be able to build back a better and more sustainable future for the aviation industry.*The views expressed are the author’s and not ICAEW