Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Interview 17-Vassilis Theocharides-Promoting Cyprus in the Arabic region

DUBAI PROFILE NEWS (DPN) Blog this week hosts a really talented young person, Vassilis Theocharides (VT), the Director of the Cyprus Tourism Organization in Middle East. Cyprus is a lucky country that such a technocratic and multitasking mind is representing the country with loads of success. Let’s learn more about him.

DPN: Vassilis you do represent in Middle East through your position the tourism of one of the most beautiful countries around the world, Cyprus. Tell us some things about your place.

VT: Without going through the usual clich├ęs, Cyprus offers the ultimate break from the Middle East at just 3.5 hours from Dubai. In summer our beaches and clear water are of course the main attraction, but now that the winter festive season is creeping in, I suggest for visitors to rent a car and discover the island. It takes 3 hours from west to east coast; one can discover typical villages in our mountains, go for wine tasting, visit our cities and naturally enjoy huge variety of mezzes at one of our local taverns. Basically Cyprus offers the safety of a small island, the relaxation of having he Mediterranean Sea around you and above all genuinely hospitable people!

DPN: Someone said “Vacation used to be a luxury, however in today’s world, it has become a necessity”. Comment that please.

VT: We are spending more and more time at our workplace, and now with smart phones, Ipads and other gadgets effectively we are at work all the time. Let’s not forget during a recession our employers also are pushing as more and we have to deliver, so yes to remain sane, and manage our life’s holidays are mandatory. Perhaps we are not taking full months off like our parents but shorter breaks just to get back to what really is important.

DPN: How do you promote Cyprus within the Arab region?

VT: Marketing has evolved since I joined the CTO in 2005, before it was about heavy advertisement through the traditional media, however with the exponential growth of the web based placement we decided to follow the current demands. So advertisement is done to attract the public, we also participate in exhibitions and keep the press informed through our PR.  Second fold we need to keep our clients informed, and that the travel agents and tour operators, either through marketing support, training, educational trips to Cyprus or our new e-learning platform www.agentslovecyprus.com .

DPN: We do experience a global recession. Is tourism industry the present and the future for Cyprus and if yes, why?

VT: It is the present that is a fact. About 11-15% of our GDP can directly be related to tourism services so it is a huge industry. As for the future is concerned we shall continue attracting tourists, but through diversification such as conference centers, marinas and golf courses. So tourism will join other industries to offer a more comprehensive role to our industry. So the why part is because this is what we do best.

DPN: You live in Dubai, UAE, the last 6 years of your life, what this city means for you?

VT: The city is continuously growing, changing, evolving into a truly unique metropolis. I always called in the NYC of the east as it has similar patters of diversity and energy. I actually feel proud to live in this city, but above all in the Middle East.

DPN: A number of young European people are looking for their business future in Dubai. What would you advise them?

VT: They need to understand the different cultures that make this city function. When moving to Dubai one has to read well about the whole Middle East, Iran and India before moving here. It’s imperative that assimilation to the rainbow of cultures is undertaken and not sticking to ones ethnic group only.

DPN: You are a person with a strong Hospitality background. How do you see this industry in Dubai the latest years?

VT: Obviously tourism is very susceptible to the slightest external turbulences, however although occupancy is not as it was before I think the fundamental infrastructure of Dubai will keep on attracting tourists. With such a choice of hotels, and not only luxury properties Dubai has the capability of still being a leader in revenue and occupancy. What is even more interesting is the hoteliers adaptability to custom their products to the ever-changing tourism industry. I’ve noticed more and more Chinese speakers in Dubai hotels, and this is just to anticipate the massive wave from China, which is slowing coming to Dubai.

DPN: You grew up in Switzerland, a country with which you do hold strong relationships. How different is in comparison with United Arab Emirates?

VT: Well I think a similarity can be drawn from the set-up of the two countries. Without going into too much detail both countries are set by very unique states (Emirates in the UAE and cantons in Switzerland). These federal states although proud in their independent spirit have still very loyal and proud citizens. Therefore perhaps there is something to say about not amassing all the power in the central government but allowing all states/cities to have their say in the development of the nation.

DPN: through your position you are travelling in a number of countries. Share with us some unique travel experiences.

VT: I love the Middle East. I think one of the most interesting situations was when some journalist friends in Saudi Arabia invited my colleague and me for dinner. Now we were expecting for a normal dinner, however they had rented an entire ballroom with a buffet for 150 people, but we were only 6! It just shows the hospitality of the people in the region and the value they attribute to friendship!

DPN: In your opinion what is the future of the world tourism industry?

VT: The future is a return to less generic; corporate experiences such a worldwide brand to a local experience. I think people are becoming more savvy travelers looking for local sights and sounds. Furthermore we are going to have to change our product to adapt to the new players in the market which are the BRIC countries, thus tourism is shifting from the traditional western markets to the new ones from the East and Brazil.

DPN: You worked a number of years in Atlanta, USA. Is really the “American Dream” exists?

VT: The American dream exists, it is one of the few countries that if you work hard you can go far. Whatever we can say about the US, no other nation has such a spirit of entrepreneurship and can do attitude.

DPN: Take us through one of your biggest achievements.

VT: We decided to support an agent in Lebanon that was selling civil weddings. Our campaign was a small one with the travel agent; however once it started it snowballed and international press took the subject (including the economist and USA today). What we had done was actually cause a slight controversy, as civil weddings are illegal in Lebanon. Thus we managed to ride the wave of slight discontent with this law in Lebanon by positioning ourselves as a solution to the peoples need to marry outside of religion institutions. Now nearly all agents in Lebanon are selling civil weddings!

DPN: Describe us a situation that you experienced and everything went totally wrong. How did you deal with it?

VT: I think our biggest failure was in Saudi Arabia; basically we were throwing money in a big well. We had poor fights, no embassy and we had to realize Cyprus is not the ideal destination for the more conservative Saudi populace.

DPN: Is there a person in your life that inspired you mostly?

VT: My father, he had worked in the UN for many years so was very cultural sensitive, he was also born in Sudan and new very well the region. He always pushed me to work hard and never accent mediocrity and question everything.

DPN: How do you see yourself in the next decade?

VT: I have no clue, ask me in ten years.

DPN: Share with us a wish.

VT: That the people in the region get the leaders they deserve.


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