BRITISH holidaymakers will be "welcomed with open arms" in Cyprus when travel restrictions are lifted this summer.
The country's deputy tourism minister made the appeal directly to the UK, as they prepare to welcome tourists as early as June.
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Cypriot deputy tourism minister Savvas Perdios told Sun Online Travel: "We love taking care of the British people.
"There are a lot of British people living here. Whenever others are ready to visit our island we will welcome them with open arms."
Close to one million Brits flew out to the Mediterranean hotspot last year with most heading to its coastal resorts.
The message comes just days Mr Perdios appeared to say that Britain would not be among the first nationalities allowed onto the island after its opens its borders.
In an interview with local press earlier this week, he said: "The important thing is that travel agents have Cyprus in mind…there are positive signs from Germany, Switzerland, Austria, the Nordic countries, Greece, Israel and perhaps the Netherlands."
But he has now confirmed to us that it is not the case.
He said: "We don’t have preferences based on nationality. The ideal case scenario is for everyone to be able to come.
"We have always been a hospitable country. We have been welcoming people for decades, especially from the UK, which is one of our most important markets. And that is never going to change.”
Echoing the sentiment, Vassilis Stamataris who heads the Cyprus Association of Travel Agents said: “We are a hospitality industry and do not discriminate.
"Of course we want them here… we were very sorry about them leaving the EU but as in most European countries the ministry of health is in charge now.”
A former British colony, Cyprus was hosting tens of thousands of Brits when the coronavirus outbreak hit.
Announcing strict lockdown measures to curb transmissions spreading, its government rushed to seal the country’s borders and end air travel ahead of almost all of its European counterparts in early March.
UK travellers stranded on the island were put up in hotels paid for by the government.
The restrictions included a nightly 9pm to 6am curfew and allowing people out only once daily with a special permit. A ban on commercial air traffic was extended through to May 17 last week.
But the policies paid off: the island now has 837 confirmed coronavirus cases in a population of 800,000 Greek Cypriots and 15 deaths.
Mr Perdios explained that the tourist industry employed one in five in the island’s workforce and, as such, was crucial to the island’s economy.
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He said: “At first the policies shocked our source markets but we thought the earlier we took this strong-handed approach, the earlier we could draft an exit strategy.
“The results have been very positive. And now as part of that exit strategy we are readying for full opening of the island as a tourist destination in mid-June. That is the vision.”
With the island’s president announcing the easing of measures on Wednesday the race is on to prepare the industry for the summer.
He added: “Hospitals, airports, hotels, restaurants, bars, beaches, public transport, taxi services, we want everything to be ready by mid-June at latest.
"If customers can’t come until early July that’s not the end of the world. We want to be ready so that when Europe, as a whole says ‘lets ease travel restrictions’ we can immediately accept and welcome people.”
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But the minister also acknowledged that the situation would likely change “day by day” and ultimately would depend on scientific and epidemiological data – at home and abroad.
He said: “Any decisions will be taken at the last minute based on how each country is doing when it comes to handling of the virus. Things can change day by day, week by week."
Officials were working on the premise that travel from the UK will resume in July but he cautioned: “It all depends on what is going to be happening at that particular moment.”
The European Union’s most easterly state, Cyprus is spearheading efforts in Brussels to fast track ways of facilitating travel through commonly agreed protocols including possible immunity certificates.
Perdios insisted it was vital for Europe’s travel industry to be guided by “common rules” to avoid the confusion of countries acting independently and forging bilateral agreements with each other.
He said: “The most import thing now is to have a common protocol for travel and the sooner we get it the better for everyone involved.
EU tourism and transport bosses are currently trying to come up with a solution to the challenges posed by the novel virus but agreeing on health passports or immunity certificates was likely to take a few more weeks.
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