With plenty of offers about and operators adding luxurious new hotels, Cyprus looks set for a solid season. Jeannine Williamson reports
Cyprus ticks all the boxes as a winter-sun destination. The sea is warm enough for swimming in November, the average temperature on the coast is 20C in December and the island enjoys an average six hours of sunshine a day.
Sales are hotting up too, with the Cyprus Tourism Organisation reporting that winter 2011-12 bookings are up 29% on last year, despite fierce competition from other winter-sun hotspots.
Cyprus remains Olympic Holidaysâ€™ leading winter-sun destination and commercial director Photis Lambrianides expects winter bookings to benefit from the fallout of the recent unrest in North Africa and the Middle East.
â€œThereâ€™s every likelihood people will turn to a traditional favourite like Cyprus for their winter-sun break this year,â€� he says. â€œCyprus is a long-established and steady destination and I expect it to perform well in 2011-12, with good initiatives by hoteliers continuing from summer and prices being pegged.â€�
Cosmos product manager Gemma Carroll is also positive about Cyprus bookings, even though she believes it can struggle against other winter-sun destinations such as the Canaries on account of its slightly lower temperatures for some of the winter months.
â€œThe winter market is definitely up on the same time last year, although with people now tending to book much closer to departure itâ€™s too early to predict how it will end up,â€� she says.
â€œIn general, we expect the majority of bookings to come in the shoulder periods, such as October, November and March, and anticipate it will be driven by the couples market more than the family market.â€�
One challenge, notes Alexis Josephides, Sunvilâ€™s programme director, is that reduced airlift, particularly to Paphos, has led to fewer hotels remaining open. The majority of Sunvilâ€™s available beds in the winter are in small family-owned hotels, inns and villas.
â€œFor years the CTO has tried to market Cyprus as a winter-sun destination but with limited success,â€� he adds. â€œItâ€™s worth noting, though, that Cyprus has a long summer season compared with the likes of Greece, Spain and Portugal, with many properties still counting September and the first half of October as peak months.â€�
Prestige Holidays has added the all-suite, adults-only Asimina Suites in Paphos for the winter. Facilities include three pools, spa, tennis, gym and restaurants, and Prestige offers include complimentary half-board for arrivals between October 15-31.
Guests can take the plunge at the five-star Columbia Beach Resort and sister property Columbia Beachotel in Pissouri Bay on the southwest coast. This winter the two hotels are launching packages featuring the new onsite diving centre, Kembali Diving, due to open in November 2011.
Guests, including children aged 10 and above, will be able to take part in a range of diving activities suitable for complete beginners to experienced divers, gain Padi certification and go on wreck dives. Half-day introduction courses start at Â£48 and there are preferential room rates for guests booking three or four-day diving packages.
With bad weather highly unlikely to stop play, Cyprus is a golferâ€™s paradise where players can tee off throughout the winter. New for this year is Elea Golf Club, a 71-par course just outside Paphos that was designed by Nick Faldo.
Visitors can pit their wits against Faldoâ€™s â€˜Mediterranean Masterpieceâ€™ on the new winter golfing packages on offer from the five-star Almyra hotel in Paphos. The packages include two rounds of golf at Elea, two rounds at the well-established InterContinental Aphrodite Hills Resort, taxi transfer to the courses, packed lunches and a restorative massage in the hotel spa. The package leads in at Â£530, excluding accommodation. For golfing widows, or non-players, there are spa packages from Â£140.
The Elea course and Minthis Hills Golf Club are both new to Cyplonâ€™s winter programme and the operator is also offering reduced green fees, a free spa treatment and 14 nights for the price of 10 at Aphrodite Hills.
Cyplon has introduced several properties this winter including the rural Avalon Village House outside Limassol, leading in at Â£428, and the boutique-style Library Hotel Wellness Retreat in Kalavassos village from Â£752.
Moreover, golfers flying with Aegean Airlines on its twice-daily Heathrow-Larnaca service can check in one golf bag for free on top of their 20kg bag allowance.
Monarch this summer started scheduled flights to Paphos from Birmingham, Gatwick and Manchester, with up to 11 flights a week, in addition to existing services to Larnaca from Birmingham, Gatwick, Luton and Manchester. Flights to Larnaca also operate during the winter. All flights are available to book until October 2012.
Cyprus is not the cheapest of destinations, and some agents report that selling the destination can be a tough call with consumers keeping a close eye on their holiday spending.
â€œI have been there and I love it, but when you have places like Egypt, Turkey and Greece going so cheap itâ€™s very hard to push as people are price conscious at the moment and the prices are quite high,â€� says Kimberley Marshall, assistant manager at The Co-operative Travel in Eastleigh.
â€œI would say the quality in Cyprus is far higher than the likes of Greece and Spain but you do pay for it.â€�
Neil Jones, senior travel consultant at Westgate Travel in Mid-Glamorgan, says: â€œPeople are worried that itâ€™s a lot more expensive than places like Greece and Turkey.â€� However, he points to the market for long-stay winter holidays as one area where the island has long excelled.
â€œThe year-round sunshine is a massive bonus and hotels offer great rates for long stays from November to March,â€� he adds.