The Mediterranean island of Cyprus is forging ahead with a grand plan to become a tech hub for the region. Gillian Upton discovers how Wings will be part of the island’s burgeoning new economy.
It’s exciting times for Cyprus. What is one of the largest islands in the Mediterranean has ambitious plans to drive growth by enhancing its status as a tech hub for the region. The island in the eastern Med is the birthplace of Aphrodite and the point at which the ancient civilisations of Europe, Asia and Africa were said to meet. Cyprus is strategically placed between those continents and already hosts regional headquarters of many international businesses in the tech sector who rely on the island’s advanced communications infrastructure.
The Wargaming Group is just one, which uses Cyprus as a hub to service Europe, Asia, the CIS region and the US. Limassol in particular has witnessed a surge of tech companies moving in, many from India, Isreal and Russia, for example, while tech giants round the eastern Mediterranean and North Africa have placed their headquarters on the island.
Two years ago the government launched Innovation Hub using distributed ledger technology to focus on disruptive and fast-growing technology such as FinTech and RegTech developments. The strategy is part of a wider goal of diversifying the country’s economy. Virtual banking, medical, financial, food and education technology, renewable energies and smart cities are set to become major planks of the country’s future economy.
Aside from infrastructure, Cyprus enjoys “a large pool of well-educated and highly-skilled human talent” according to Deloitte. To meet the country’s stated intention of becoming a tech hub, Nicosia University, for example, created the first Master of Science in blockchain and distributed ledger technology.
The island has other attractions for business. “The country has an attractive and transparent tax regime offering a number of incentives to business including an attractive Intellectual Property (IP) regime,” says Deloitte.
“The country has an attractive and transparent tax regime offering a number of incentives to business including an attractive Intellectual Property (IP) regime”
There are some 170,000 foreign nationals within its shores so an additional lure for those doing business or setting up shop on the island is the availability of a wide range of languages spoken. The World Bank ranks Cyprus 54 among 190 economies for the ease of doing business.
There is a pro-business government spearheaded by Invest Cyprus as its principal national investment promotion agency. In the last year a number of pop-up innovation centres were established on the island, backed by a quarter of a billion euros of investments. The country is also keen to support innovation, and various schemes aimed at incentivising entrepreneurs, such as IDEA, which aims to support start-up companies, and ARIS which provides workspace for aspiring entrepreneurs.
The Cypriot Government is also attempting to turn the island into a year-round destination, with yachting facilities already opened in Limassol for example, and facilities still to come for the burgeoning medical tourism industry. George Campanellas, Chief Executive of Invest Cyprus, noted at a company conference in June, “The long-term vision is to build Cyprus into a ‘digitally-smart’ tourism destination, creating further opportunities for tech investors.”
What businesses and business travellers find on the island is a relaxed business environment, an outdoor lifestyle due to the warm Mediterranean climate and average daily temperature of 24 degrees, four major cities within its shores including two lively port towns (Limassol and Larnaca) and disparate landscapes, including the Troodos mountain range, beaches, river valleys and rocky hills.
Paphos in the far southwest of the island is arguably more relaxed than its easterly neighbours and has large numbers of expats. It also boasts an additional regional office for Wings Travel Management that services over a dozen European counties.
“There are a lot of commercial benefits to having a base in Cyprus, such as the talent pool, real estate, access to the English language and other European languages,” says Wings Founder and CEO Tony Sofianos.
Of course, today Cyprus only occupies the southern two thirds of the island while the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus occupies the northern third. Inbetween is a United Nations-controlled Green Line as a buffer zone that separates the two since the Turkish invasion in 1974.
Accommodation is abundant across the island, from luxury hotels and boutique properties to budget hotels and apartments, as well as many fine dining options.
In Limassol, the Four Seasons and Amara hotels are highly rated while in Paphos it’s The Elysium and Annabelle properties. In Limassol Blu Marine has opened as a luxury waterfront apartment development to woo wealthy homeowners from abroad and this will be augmented by a casino, golf course and larger cruise port.
If time allows there are many must-see sites across the island, including Nicosia’s Cyprus Musuem, the beautiful Roman mosaics at Paphos and in Kourion (11 miles west of Limassol), many frescoed late-Byzantine churches near the Troodos mountains exemplified by Kykkos Monastery, and the 4th century BC Tombs of the Kings north of Paphos, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
• Cyprus boasts a friendly business environment
• Business success is based on building relationships
• Face-to-face meetings are preferred
• Don’t rush the deal; Cypriots prefer to take their time
• Nepotism operates widely, particularly in the state sector
• Over 70% of the population can communicate comfortably in English
• Cyprus is the third largest island of the Mediterranean and strategically links Europe, Africa and Asia
• The Cypriot currency is the Euro
• The official language of the country is Greek but the principal business language is English
• Cyprus has a population of 858,000
• Cyprus has four principal cities: Nicosia (the capital), Limassol, Larnaca and Paphos
• The county boasts 320 days of sunshine
• Time Zone from the UK: GMT + 2; from the UAE: +1; from Joannesburg: + 1
• Religion: Greek Orthodox, Muslim
Airlift to the island is good as all the major carriers fly in and out of Cyprus, either through Larnaca and/or Paphos, airports, the latter used by many of the budget airlines.