ECONOMY

Tourist arrivals 3-5 pct off

The launch of the euro proved a mixed blessing for Greece’s tourism industry, adding to the pain inflicted by the September 11 attacks and the sharp European economic slowdown, the country’s tourism minister said. Deputy Development Minister Dimitris Georgakopoulos told Reuters in an interview this week the rounding-up of prices after the January 1, 2002, euro changeover made Greece more expensive, weighing on business at a difficult time. «We all believed that the euro would facilitate tourist arrivals because they would not have to change currency… unfortunately, any advantage was lost in the rise in prices,» Georgakopoulos said. «This was a problem in all eurozone countries,» he added. Georgakopoulos estimated that tourist arrivals in 2002 fell by 3 to 5 percent and said the persistent weakness of the German economy, Europe’s biggest, was largely to blame. «The most important factor was the economic crisis in Europe, particularly in Germany, given that 26 percent of arrivals to Greece are Germans,» he said. There was a 1.5-2-percent rise in arrivals of British tourists who account for one-fifth of visits to the country. The tourism sector accounts for some 15 percent of Greece’s overall economic output and employs about 10 percent of its workforce. In 2001, the last year for which official figures are available, 14.6 million foreign tourists visited Greece; European visitors totalled 13 million with 9.4 million visitors from within the European Union. Georgakopoulos said Greece plans to go aggressively after the potentially lucrative Chinese tourist market, marketing its ancient glories to an estimated 12-14 million Chinese now traveling abroad. Georgakopoulos says forecasts say this number will rise to 120 million in 2020. (Reuters)