The tourism industry last year suffered a bigger decline than that projected by the government as the litany of problems that have long plagued the sector continued to remain unsolved, the Hellenic Association of Travel and Tourist Agencies (HATTA) said yesterday. «Tourist arrivals last year were down by 5 percent and hotel reservations fell by 7-8 percent,» said HATTA’s president, Yiannis Evangelou. The estimate is far bigger than official figures. The number of tourists that came to Greece last year declined by only 1 percent, which was offset by a 1 percent increase in receipts, Development Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos said last week. Evangelou said the sector should be able to escape from a war in Iraq only if military action takes place in the near future and has a short duration. With Greece slowly converging with other EU countries in terms of prices and in the process losing European tourists to other cheaper markets, he said it was vital that the State take action to help the tourism industry compete on an equal footing and expand to other markets and services. Providing incentives to the sector to upgrade facilities and revamping the institutional framework that has governed the tourism sector for the last 15 years to make it more flexible are steps in the right direction. Evangelou suggested setting up an agency to give out permits, provide insurance cover and guarantees and oversee travel and tourist companies. The proposal came on the heels of the failure of Manos Travel in December. The travel firm, once a giant in the industry, declared bankruptcy after an overambitious expansion spree. «The agency could help stamp out illegal and black economy activities, protect the sector from unfair competition and safeguard travelers,» said Evangelou. On the government’s proposal to set up a chamber of tourism, which has come under fire from hoteliers, he said the organization could improve coordination and efficiency among the different sectors. Evangelou also stressed the necessity of a code of ethics for tourist agencies and hotels.