Ryanair warns Cyprus: You need us to come here… we don’t need to be here

HIGH airport charges are stopping low-cost carrier Ryanair from flying to Cyprus and under current conditions the airline will not take the plunge, it said yesterday.

“We’re potentially interested in Cyprus but we have to be able to make money. We are a business,” Ryanair’s Director of Route Development Bernard Berger told the Cyprus Mail on the sidelines of an hoteliers` conference.

“You need us to come here. We don’t need to come to Cyprus, we are doing very well thank you.”

Berger said the way things stand at the moment, it would not be entering the Cyprus market any time soon, at least until the government changed its stance on airport passenger fees.

With an average ticket price of €44 compared to closest competitor easyJet’s €64, Ryanair is baulking at the current €30 fee per departing passenger from Cyprus.

“This doesn’t work for us. Why on an average price of €44 would you want to pay that? No one will,” said Berger.

He said ten or twenty euros less on airport fees could make a difference, especially for a family.

In his address titled ‘Europe soars, Cyprus slumps’ to the conference, organised by the Cyprus Hotel Association (PASYXE), Berger accused the government of ‘bean counting’.

He said the state should sacrifice its 33 per cent share of the airport revenue pie for the greater good of the island’s ailing tourism industry.

Berger said he had not done the math but was sure the short-term loss in revenue from the airport would be compensated for by the increase in tourism income over the medium to long term.

“The airport is not a cash cow. It’s completely the wrong approach and leads to future loss in market share,” he said.

“The cost of not doing it in the medium to long term is catastrophic.”

Berger said Latvia had taken the decision to lower it rates, and since then Ryanair had brought in between one and four million passengers through Riga airport.

“You guys have been sitting around for 20 years. Take the bull by the horns and run with it instead of sitting in a glass box and wondering what’s going on elsewhere,” he added.

Malta, like Cyprus, had also been struggling in recent years, Berger said. But since the advent of Ryanair, their tourist arrivals had jumped almost 11 per cent in just a year.

If a deal can be struck with Cyprus, Berger said Ryanair could initially bring in 60,000 to 70,000 new tourists a year and after a few years this could increase to as much as 750,000 a year.

The beauty of Ryanair, he said was its operation from airports other than country capitals.

“Ryanair delves into routes no other airlines go near,” Berger said, adding that the airline also had the brand name to ensure success.

A possible plan for Larnaca would include flights to and from Stockholm, Milan, Pisa, Marseille, Barcelona and Dusseldorf.

If that went well, Berger said Cyprus could become a Ryanair base and carry out low-cost flights to Israel and the Middle East.

“Unfortunately you are losing out on the moment. We do not believe airports should charge what they like,” Berger said.

“Do they want to suffer a slow death? The country has to look at itself and needs to do so urgently.”

Commenting on the distance, since low-cost carriers usually aim for routes three hours or less, Berger acknowledged it was a problem because Cyprus was a four-hour flight.

“Four hours is a long way. Short and long haul flights are doing well. You are medium haul and falling into the cracks,” he said.
The current cost of flights didn’t help, he said, citing €268 as the average cost of a British Airways return flight to Cyprus. Berger said he had paid €500 from Amsterdam to Larnaca.

“That’s a lot of money for a four-hour flight and it was nowhere near full,” he said. “A lot of people don’t care where they go. They just want a holiday. It’s four hours but if the price is right, people will come. We can bring in the missing tourists,” he added.

Cyprus Tourism Organisation (CTO) Director General Phoebe Katsouri was however optimistic that Ryanair would be flying to Cyprus under the new plan the organisation has that will offer EU-approved incentives to low-cost carriers.

“Ryanair’s presence here (today) is attesting to the fact they are interested,” Katrousi told the Mail.

“There are a lot of constraints and we are trying to find a workable solution,” she added referring mainly to the airport charges.

“I’m sure we will find a way to make the most of this interest. We are fully aware of the potential and uniqueness of the company,” she said.

Katsouri urged the airports to cooperate. “It has to be a partnership,” she said.

Commenting, PASYXE chairman Haris Loizides said Ryanair’s potentiality had the possibility to “contribute decisively to the recovery of our tourism”.