BUSINESS

Tourism economy sinking in a mire of negativity

By Stathis Kousounis

Greece?s negative image abroad as a holiday destination has had an impact on most sectors of the tourism economy, with representatives saying that compared to last year, yacht rentals are down by 35 percent, conferences and corporate events have declined by 50 percent and car hires are 15 percent down this season compared to last.

Cruise reservations are also expected to take a hit, according to Andreas Stylianopoulos, a board member of the Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises (SETE) and vice president of the Passenger Shipping Association (SEEN). Stylianopoulos attended the Seatrade Cruise Shipping Convention that took place in Miami, Florida, earlier this month, from which, he told Kathimerini, it was clear that Greece can expect a small decline in the number of cruise arrivals this year. He added that tourists? interest continues to be centered on Athens although there is a significant amount of concern regarding the Greek capital?s negative reputation.

Crewless yacht rentals have seen a decline of 35 percent so far this year, according to the head of the Hellenic Professional Yacht Owners Association (EPEST), Antonis Stelliatos.

?One of Greece?s biggest yachting companies attended this year?s travel and tourism trade show in Dusseldorf. While in previous years the company would make from 80 to 100 rental deals at the show, this year it made only seven,? Stelliatos said indicatively.

As far as the category of motor yachts with a crew of 12 is concerned, Stelliatos says that the big question is how many of these will be laid up this year, adding that of the 800 vessels for hire on the market, less than 50 have so far made deals, and these for very few days. According to Stelliatos, the reason for the low interest is Greece?s negative image abroad.

The head of Congress Rental Network (CRN), Panayiotis Podimatas, meanwhile, told Kathimerini that following the riots in central Athens in mid-February, at least 19 corporate conferences have been canceled in the Greek capital, Halkidiki, the Peloponnese and on Rhodes. Most of these, he said, have been moved to Spain and Turkey.

Podimatas estimates that interest in organizing conferences and corporate events has declined by 40-50 percent compared to last year, adding that he believes the causes to be the country?s bad reputation and the high prices demanded, although, he added, these have started to decline as well.

The CRN president foresees a drop in turnover of 30-40 percent in the sector in 2012, and believes that a specialized body needs to be put together to manage the crisis in the tourism sector.

Car rentals, according to the national association representing car hire firms, have declined by at least 15 percent so far this year compared to the same period in 2011. On Rhodes, however, local car hire companies have reported an even greater decline of 25-30 percent.

Greece?s tourism is seeing the biggest decline in rentals from clients in Germany, the United Kingdom and the Scandinavian countries, though there has been a rise in interest from Russia, especially for Rhodes, and from Turkey. According to the association, the fact that it is not possible to hire a car with a driver is a big problem for many tourists, as is the fact that car hire firms cannot lease a vehicle to tourists who do not have an international driver?s license.

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