Cyprus tourist arrivals rise in March in 15-month first

An increase in holidaymakers from Britain and Germany helped Cyprus tourist arrivals grow by 14.8 percent in March from a year earlier - the first rise in 15 months, official figures showed Tuesday.

The statistics were a welcome boost to a tourism-dependent economy still battling to come out of recession in the face of the economic woes of its main northern European tourism markets.

Arrivals were 103,803 against 90,434 in March 2009.

For the first quarter ending in March the number of arrivals rose by 5.6 percent from 194,127 last year to 205,006.

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

The recession in Europe has taken its toll on the Mediterranean holiday island whose economy contracted by 1.7 percent in 2009 and may register negative growth again this year, the central bank warns.

Tourism contributes around 12 percent of the island's GDP, and the majority of visitors come from European countries badly hit by the global downturn.

There was a 5.7 percent increase in arrivals from Britain, the island's largest source of holidaymakers, and a 20.1 percent improvement from Germany.

However, the number of French tourists fell by 27.7 percent and arrivals from the Netherlands by 19.8 percent.

Tourism authorities are bracing for a difficult 2010, projecting that arrivals may reach the same lower levels as last year.

However, these latest figures offer some hope for a better 2010.

Income from tourism fell to an estimated 1.49 billion euros (two billion dollars) in 2009 from 1.79 billion euros in 2008 and 1.85 billion in 2007.

Bumper tourism revenues helped Cyprus achieve GDP growth of 4.4 percent in 2007 and 3.7 percent in 2008.

Cyprus's economy has been shrinking since the first quarter of 2009 after decades of continuous robust growth.

The struggling tourism sector has sparked fears of a rise in unemployment, which could reach an unprecedented seven percent or more.

The government is trying to rein in a ballooning fiscal deficit which at 6.1 percent this year according to projections will be double the three percent of GDP set by Brussels.

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