What effect would a tourism boycott have on Cyprus?

In 2019, more than 1.3 million British holidaymakers travelled to the island

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Thursday 02 January 2020 09:16
British teenager found guilty of lying about Cyprus gang-rape

The hashtag #BoycottCyprus has been trending, following the call by the mother of the convicted British teenager for tourists to avoid the island. Her daughter was convicted following a trial that began in October after recanting a claim that she was raped in a hotel room in July by 12 Israeli men.

Cypriot police have denied that they forced the teenager to withdraw her allegation of rape. The Foreign Office has described the conviction as “deeply distressing” and has said it will raise the issue with Cypriot authorities.

But do tourism boycotts work – and what effect might this one have?

Where have there previously been calls for a tourism boycott?

There has not been a case quite like this, which is a combination of outrage at the trauma a British teenager has suffered and the questions raised about the conduct of the Cypriot police and judiciary, and concerns about the safety of young travellers to Cyprus in future.

Previously the most significant boycotts have been for human rights – for example of apartheid in South Africa, and in Burma, after the house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi and the construction of tourist facilities using slave labour.

There have also been calls for boycotts for animal rights – of Norway and Japan because of their policies over whales, as well as Canada for the seal hunt.

In the 2010s, the Chinese government backed an official boycott of Norway after the dissident Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

What effect have they had?

That’s always difficult to measure, because a boycott is only one of several factors at work. For example this year South Africa will get six times more foreign tourists than it did 30 years ago during apartheid.

Anecdotally, many British travellers refused to travel to South Africa. But rising UK income levels and falling air fares will also have had an effect in boosting numbers.

My sense is that most boycotts have had, at best, only a marginal effect.

A good example is from the island of Cyprus itself – in 1974, Turkish forces moved in and since then the north of the country has called itself the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

For decades there has been a very energetic campaign by Greek Cypriots aimed at persuading British holidaymakers to stay away from the north, but it doesn’t seem to have been particularly effective – the EU ban on direct flights, and the lack of protection for holidaymakers, may have also been deterrents.

Could this one be different?

Yes, not least because January is the key month for booking summer holidays, and because of the importance of British travellers to the island.

There are six key countries of origin for tourists to Cyprus: the UK, Russia, Israel, Greece, Germany and Ukraine.

The boycott call is likely to have little effect beyond British travellers to the island, but they are by far the most significant contingent. In 2019, more than 1.3 million British holidaymakers travelled to the island. And in August, the peak month, one in three visitors was from the UK.

A very specific demographic is young people converging on the resort of Ayia Napa, where the incident took place, is a favourite destination of British teenagers after finishing their exams.

They may well be put off, especially since there are many other possible locations around the Med for celebrations.

Might the Foreign Office recommend against British people travelling to Cyprus?

That is extremely unlikely, but the language of the official travel advice changing. At present the FCO advice for Cyprus says: “Personal attacks, including sexual assaults, are infrequent but they do occur.”

It warns women travellers to be aware of the risk of so-called “date rape” drugs and says: “Avoid splitting up from your friends, and don’t go off with people you don’t know.”

The warnings could be more strident and specific, especially for the resort of Ayia Napa.

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