The TRNC Tourism Ministry is about to bring a legal action against the world’s largest hotel reservations website.
This action comes after scores of hotels in North Cyprus were gradually deleted from the top-rated Booking.com website following concerns that illegally occupied Greek Cypriot properties were being advertised.
Only a handful of hotels in Lapta and Kyrenia remain on the website and tourism officials say that the potential loss from online revenue runs into millions of euros.
“I have just spoken to Booking.com officials and told them our intention to take legal action,” Minister for Tourism Faiz Sucuoglu told local media.
Accommodation in North Cyprus ranges between over 130 luxury hotels, apartments, guesthouses, boutique hotels and eco hotels, but only sixteen properties – all on land which is ‘certified’ as being of Turkish Cypriot ownership – are listed on the website.
The result is that tourist who want to book their own holidays online in North Cyprus face an acute lack of choice
“The continuing ban on the world’s biggest hotel marketing website is unlawful. We have instructed lawyers to prepare legal documents to have them served on Booking.com,” Sucuoglu said.
The website deals with more than 900,000 room nights reservations each day, with over 2,800 properties being listed from the Republic of Cyprus.
Booking.com acknowledged in a statement to Sunday Mail that ‘certain regulations’ had prevented some properties being listed.
“Because Booking.com is a European-based company, we are subject to the regulations of other EU member states and are therefore prohibited from doing business with certain properties in northern Cyprus.”
A spokesman for Booking.com would not comment on the threatened legal action, but added: “At Booking.com, our mission is to connect people from all over the world with incredible stays in every corner of the globe, including in northern Cyprus.”
“As such, we are keen to continue growing and supporting our current base of accommodation partners there, just as we do throughout the rest of the world.”
The threat of a lawsuit has raised fears that action could have damaging a long-term impact for the tourism sector, which according to estimates from 2014, contributes nine per cent to gross domestic product.
Tourists from Turkey, the United Kingdom and Germany make up the biggest share of visitors to the north, with a marked increase of arrivals from Middle Eastern countries and central Europe also having been recorded recently.
Orhan Tolun, who heads the ‘Cyprus Turkish Hoteliers Union’ said that the threat of a lawsuit has caused dismay among some of his members.
“How can we force a private company to advertise places they choose not to advertise? Is it not the company’s prerogative?”
With more than half of UK tourists avoiding travel agents in favour of booking their own holidays, online accommodation websites are vital to the future of tourism.
Even though some northern Cyprus hotels are listed on smaller portals like Travel Republic and Kayak, Booking.com remains the market leader, offering travellers hotel deals in most locations around the world in forty different languages.
One of the properties removed from the site in 2011 was “Edremit’s Hideaway Club Hotel”.
Co-owner Mustafa Topcu said he was left “absolutely fuming” at the decision.
Many holiday establishments own websites in North Cyprus have poorly operating websites and lack a booking option.
The recent campaign by Greek Cypriots living in London to have adverts promoting North Cyprus removed from buses and tube stations in the capital is also likely to hit the North’s tourist industry.
The National Federation of Cypriots in the UK has written to the mayor of London, London transport department, the foreign secretary and the shadow foreign secretary to complain about the holiday adverts.
Barnet Cllr Dan Thomas said these adverts on public transport in the British capital were insensitive.
“The adverts are insensitive and should be removed without delay. How would you like it if someone kicked you out of your home town then advertised it to the world as a place to go on holiday? The timing is also insensitive, when negotiations are taking place to reunify the island,” he said.