CULTURE

Wave of Slavic holidaymakers boosts Greek tourism

A drop in local hotel prices as well as feeling of solidarity for their ?beleaguered Greek brethren? have seen the number of Balkan and Russian visitors to Greece surge since early June, with the most popular destinations being the coasts of northern regions including Halkidiki, Pieria, Skiathos and Corfu. And, according to estimates, arrivals from the former Yugoslavia and the former Soviet Union are expected to increase significantly over the next few months.

By the number of visa applications it has processed, the desk of the Greek National Tourism Organization (GNTO) in Moscow estimates that more than 550,000 Russians will be choosing Greece for their summer holidays this year, while the country?s Foreign Affairs Ministry sees that number being closer to 700,000.

?The Russians are increasingly discovering Greece as a holiday destination,? one tourism professional specializing in the Russian market told Kathimerini. ?The reasons are the obvious ones, but this year Greece has become more attractive thanks to a drop in the price of package deals but also — as odd as it may sound — because of the crisis. The Russians are sympathetic toward Greece and are somewhat fed up with the treatment it has received in the international press and would like to offer their support if only by choosing it for their holidays.?

Serbians, it seems, see the situation in a similar way and are doing what they can for Greece, which offered Serbia a good deal of support during its own dark chapter of history in the early 1990s. Figures published in Belgrade suggest that this year, Greece can expect some 700,000 arrivals from Serbia, a rise of 200,000 compared to last year. Moreover, a recent poll carried out by Serbia?s National Association of Travel Agencies found that 62 percent of respondents are ready to vacation in Greece.

A Serbian journalist who specializes in tourism told Kathimerini that, ?even though Croatia is closer, the majority of Serbs will choose Greece for their holidays. Even Bosnian Serbs — who mostly opt for Montenegro — will be coming to Greece in large numbers this year as part of package tours. In part, this does have to do with the sympathy Serbs feel for Greeks, whom they see as their closest friends.?

Exact figures are not known for the number of holidaymakers coming to Greece from bordering countries like Bulgaria and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), as improvements in northern Greece?s road networks as well as those across the borders mean that thousands descend every day over the summer to enjoy the beaches of Halkidiki and Pieria and even the Ionian.

A general decrease of 10-15 percent in package holiday prices has been catalytic in increasing the number of visitors to Greece this year. According to Grigoris Tasios, president of the Halkidiki Hoteliers? Association, ?the price cut has brought results since the winter from the markets of the Balkans and Russia.? But, he warned, ?things will go a lot better for tourism if there is calm all over Greece.?