In March 2013 Prime Minister Antonis Samaras announced a series of policies to upgrade the presence of Greece’s museum and archaeological sites following a meeting with leading officials at the Ministry of Culture. The policies broke new ground here though they have long been implemented in other countries, even those that haven’t been blessed with a rich cultural legacy as Greece has. His announcement met with some skepticism, as it came in the wake of myriad promises by leaders past to do more for the country’s museums and sites.
But over a year later, better management at 33 archaeological sites and museums, extended summer opening hours – from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week – revamped museum shops featuring new products and the hiring of additional staff are already bringing positive results even though the peak summer season is yet to start.
The news is good not just because the extended hours have resulted in a rise in visitor numbers but also because the measures have brought about a boost in revenues for the Archaeological Receipts Fund. According to the service, which regularly monitors visitor numbers and revenues at museums and sites, compared to a year earlier, April takings rose 115.81 percent at Akrotiri on Santorini, 109.59 percent at the recently renovated Archaeological Museum of Iraklio on Crete, 100.26 percent at the White Tower in Thessaloniki and 95.85 percent at the Acropolis of Ancient Ialysus on Rhodes. The smallest increase in year-on-year revenues was at the Temple of Poseidon in Sounio, which was 14.12 percent.
At 17 percent, the increase for the country’s biggest attraction, the Parthenon in Athens, was not notable by comparison either but this is mainly due to the fact that there is a specially priced ticket that permits access to the ancient citadel as well as the Theater of Dionysus, the Ancient Agora, the Roman Agora and Hadrian’s Library. However, other sites in Athens did much better, with the Ancient Cemetery of Kerameikos seeing a rise of 35 percent and the National Archaeological Museum a 24 percent increase. Impressively, the Byzantine Museum, which has beautiful grounds but an eclectic collection and is slightly off the beaten track, saw revenues leap 68.89 percent.
The data for April are just the beginning, according to Culture Minister Panos Panayiotopoulos, who said recently that he expects the measures to yield even more benefits as the summer progresses, stressing that revenues are not just increasing from ticket sales but also from gift shop takings as well.
“The review of revenues and visitor numbers used to cover a period of six or seven months. Now, the services in charge of reporting the numbers of visitors and tickets sold have to do so on a daily basis so that any corrective measures can be adopted as soon as possible,” the minister said.
The 33 sites and museums that extended their opening hours from April 1 to October 31 (the summer period) is just the beginning. They were chosen because they represent 95 percent of the country’s overall visitors and revenues. These sites also underwent exterior landscaping and internal renovations, improvements to their gift shops (where they exist) and ticket booths, as well as expansions of their adjacent cafes and snack bars. In addition, the ministry launched a campaign to promote them more vigorously in cooperation with tourism businesses, paying special attention to how the country’s cultural attractions are promoted on the Internet, an area where Greece was seriously lagging.
The effort seems to be having the desired effect and is to be extended to include sites and museum in lesser-visited parts of the country, such as Epirus, Eastern Macedonia and the islands of the Northern Aegean.
If predictions of another record year for tourism prove correct and Greece does indeed see around 19 million arrivals as is estimated by the tourism business community, its archaeological sites and museums have to be made ready for the influx.
The general secretary of the Culture Ministry, Lina Mendoni, says that Greece’s archaeological sites are being prepared for a surge in visitors, which is normally restricted to a few months of the year depending on the site.
Last year, for example, the Parthenon had days when it received as many as 18,000 visitors between 10 a.m. and noon. The site, however, cannot withstand such numbers, according to Panayiotopoulos, who said that there should not be more than 2,500 visitors on the Sacred Rock at any given time. In order to ensure this, the ministry is working with cruise operators to make sure that large groups of tourists do not arrive at the site at the same time.