Cyprus April tourism hard hit by volcanic ash

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Tourist arrivals, key to Cyprus's economy, plummeted 23 percent in April following the eruption of the Icelandic volcano that severely disrupted flights across Europe, officials said on Tuesday.

Arrivals last month reached 139,658 against 181,395 in April 2009, and at least 20,000 holidaymakers failed to make it to the eastern Mediterranean island, even though both of its international airports remained open.

More than 350 flights between Cyprus and Britain and northern Europe - the country's major tourism markets - were cancelled.

Visitors from Britain and Germany had helped tourist arrivals grow by 14.8 percent in March - the first rise in 15 months - but April suffered a stark reversal.

There was a 25.8 percent dip in arrivals from Britain, the island's largest source of holidaymakers, and a 13.5 percent decrease from Germany.

For the four months through April, arrivals fell by 8.2 percent to 344,644 from a year earlier.

In 2009, arrivals plunged 10.9 percent to 2.14 million - the lowest level since 1997.

The recession in Europe has taken its toll on Cyprus, whose Gross Domestic Product contracted by 1.7 percent in 2009 and could decline again this year, according to the European Commission.

Tourism contributes around 12 percent of GDP, and authorities are bracing for a difficult 2010, projecting that arrivals might reach the same low levels as last year.