2003 looks better for tourism, but upgrading of services is a must

The year that has just gone out was one of the most difficult for world tourism. The consequences of September 11, the attack in Bali, the threat of war in Iraq and the economic slowdown in many countries created a particularly unfavorable mix for the industry. Nevertheless, the decline in demand was relatively small. As at the time of the Gulf War, tourism proved it has endurance and positive growth prospects. Greece was no exception to this trend; on the island of Corfu, arrivals at the airport fell by about 2 percent to 960,000, arrivals at the port rose by about 10,000 to 155,000, while cruise ships brought the record number of 180,000 visitors, against 110,000 last year, although these, being mainly European, tended to be lower spenders. The year also brought to the surface with greater force than before the main weakness of our tourism services: low quality, which meant larger discounts than usual and a great number of last-minute bookings. As a result, earnings are projected to drop much more than the number of arrivals. This development must lead to the introduction of the so-called «satellite accounts,» which will assist in correctly depicting the total contribution of tourism to the national (and hopefully local) economy and the fluctuations from year to year. It is rather too early to make predictions for 2003, but the general view is that things will be much better. Prospects After attending the recent meeting of the World Tourism Organization (WTO) in Thessaloniki and the World Tourism Market (WTM) fair in London, and taking into account other data, it is possible to discern the following trends for the next few years. 1) Most people agree that demand for world tourism will either stay stagnant or rise at very low rates until 2005. For Greece, the main event during this period will be the Olympic Games of 2004, but the issue is for this country’s tourism sector to be able to reap long-term, rather than only short-term, benefits from this outstanding event. Unfortunately, it was evident at the WTM fair that the appropriate moves have not been made so far. 2) Terrorism and war preparations have made it increasingly difficult to speak of «safe destinations.» 3) The popularity of a destination is likely to be adversely affected even by a small negative media report in complete disproportion to the seriousness of any problem, WTO has pointed out. 4) The destinations that stand to gain most are those that offer best value for money. To increase sales, the option of upgrading services with a modest increase in prices is a preferable option to lowering prices. 5) The trend for mergers and strategic alliances between tour operators and airlines is expected to intensify. 6) Distribution channels will increasingly rely on the Internet, particularly for destinations that are linked to scheduled flights. 7) There is an increasing desire on the part of consumers to acquire greater autonomy in planning their holidays, at the expense of the traditional packages. This trend, in combination with the rapid growth of low-cost, no-frills airlines can bring about a radical change in Europe’s tourism market in the next two to three years. 8) Competition, particularly from countries with a negative performance in 2002 (such as Spain) will be much stronger in 2003. 9) Cruise ship arrivals are projected to increase, which makes the improvement in services more necessary than ever. 10) The trend for all-inclusive holidays in Greece is gaining strength. 11) New tour operators are including in their programs more and more walking tours, which puts a greater onus on municipalities to preserve traditional paths in their areas. The above trends show that the continuous analysis of national markets, the systematic promotion and the development of crisis/problem management mechanisms must be our chief concern. The Ionian Islands Tourism Association is doing a great deal in this direction. Upgrading services As regards the upgrading of services, the approach must be much more client-oriented. All tourists arriving in any one place must be treated by the local population as their own clients. The upgrading does not mean offering luxury services; only a very small number of our visitors expect this. What they do expect is good and friendly service, cleanliness and attention to detail, in all, a level that does justice to the real potential of destinations such as Corfu. (1) Giorgos Doukas is chairman of the Corfu Travel Agents’ Association.