NICOSIA: Cyprus welcomed a record 3.93 million tourists last year, smashing the previous record set in 2017 by a whopping 7.8 per cent, official figures showed on Thursday.
The eastern Mediterranean island has benefited from its reputation as a regional safe haven as unrest has hit the tourism sectors of its traditional competitors Egypt, Tunisia and Turkey.
The island saw a surge in arrivals from its largest market Britain with 1.32 million visitors, up nearly six per cent on 2017.
There was also a revival in arrivals from Sweden -- up 12.5 per cent at 153,769 — and Greece — up 9.8 per cent at 186,370.
Only declines in the second and third largest markets Russia — down five per cent at 783,631 — and Israel — down 11.2 per cent at 232,561 — prevented the island from breaking the psychologically important four million barrier.
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Poland and Ukraine have become new emerging markets for the island with annual increases of 58 per cent and 44.5 per cent respectively.
The tourism boom has helped Cyprus to return to robust GDP growth of 4 per cent after it was forced to agree a painful 10-billion euro bailout from international lenders in March 2013 to rescue its crumbling economy and insolvent banks.
Tourism revenue figures for 2018 have yet to be released but income from tourism accounts for more than 13 per cent of GDP and is credited with underpinning the quick recovery.
Earlier this month, Cyprus swore in its first junior tourism minister, tasked with heading a new dedicated department to replace the state-funded Cyprus Tourism Organisation.