Every time we make our late night drives home from Larnaca airport, Prof and I can’t help but to discuss our observations and feelings about the places we’ve traveled compared to where we live or to another recent trip. I guess you can say it’s part of our learning process. Our final overseas trip of 2013 from Crete was no different. We made some pretty interesting observations that I hope will be valuable to those traveling to these places.
Last November, we traveled to Athens, Greece, which was during the early part of our 10-month stay in Cyprus. This afforded us the opportunity to observe some major differences between Greece and Cyprus. After all, many Greek-Cypriots closely align themselves with Greece in almost every way: culturally, politically, and economically. Think of the recent news when Cyprus desperately needed a bailout from the EU back in March and April.
Athens is a highly modernized city with well-developed infrastructure (such as their interconnected metro system) to keep people mobile in the 21st century. Plenty of tourism, ranging from high-end fashion to every kind of eatery you can imagine, makes Athens a hot spot for tourists. Just take a look at how the 2004 Olympics further developed Greece’s infrastructure and promote Greece’s rich cultural history with new and old visitors each year.
(Photo: Metro station in Athens, Greece – taken November 2012)
(Photo: City view of Athens, Greece – taken November 2012)
Crete, on the other hand, is a complete opposite of Athens’ scene. As Greece’s largest island, Crete is definitely more rustic compared to Cyprus. Although Crete and Cyprus are roughly about the same distance in length, Crete is half the distance in width compared to Cyprus. Crete’s major highway mainly runs horizontally and is definitely more mountainous than Cyprus.
Even though Crete and Cyprus have similar geographical features, we can feel a stark difference in the way Cretans treat tourists compared to Cypriots. There is a sense of genuineness in Cretans’ hospitality that you don’t find in Cypriots when you first meet them. Many times service in Cyprus feels more forced, where you feel like those in the service sector act resigned when talking to foreigners. I never once felt that way in Crete. Everyone, and I mean, everyone was kinder and smiled more. Perhaps, the cooler breezes and less humidity make for a more relaxed group of people than the hot and humid Cypriot weather. However, I think it has to do with the centuries of occupation that has caused so much reservation in Cypriots.
Many businesses and political leaders in Cyprus say they want tourism to grow and help develop the country’s economy. However, in order to bring in more foreign tourists, I think Cyprus’ tourism industry should rethink strategies on a relational-level, such as developing a hospitality retraining program, thus encouraging tourists to want to come back or tell their friends to come and visit.
We have some friends who recently made a trip to Greece and Turkey, and Cyprus wasn’t even on their radar to come and visit. It tells you how far Cyprus has to go to get the word out, show more hospitality, and help bring the economy back on its feet.
(Photos: Greek Orthodox church service and a city view into the old city of Nicosia, Cyprus)
On a final note, I empathize how strongly Cyprus feels about being part of a larger nation-state like Greece, but I don’t know if it really suits Cyprus to continue on that trajectory of thinking. Cyprus is very unique and, to me, a different group of people – with its own culture and set of ideals. The country is so rich with history and culture all on its own that it can rival that of Greece, if it works to market its “party towns,” historical sites, and family-oriented entertainment for people of all ages. As an outsider, I see that it’s going to take more than tourism to work through the centuries of barriers in a divided country. My hope is that Cyprus will find strength to work through its tough current economic state and find momentum towards economic recovery.