ECONOMY

This year Greece is aiming for 14 mln tourists

Greece is aiming to attract 14 million tourists this year, unchanged from last year’s level, despite lower bookings in the first four months as a result of the war in Iraq. «We have set a target of 14 million tourists, the same as last year’s,» Development Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos told Parliament during a discussion on the sale of a 49 percent stake in the Mont Parnes casino to the consortium of Hyatt Regency and construction company Technical Olympic. Tsochadzopoulos acknowledged a fall in bookings over the February-April period due to the conflict in Iraq but said an additional marketing campaign planned for after the end of the war should help boost demand. The government is planning to plow in 7 million euros to plug the country’s attractions. The World Tourism Organization on Tuesday said the war could discourage the tourism industry in the short term but that outlook in the long term looks optimistic. The lower number of German tourists visiting Greece could be due as much to the war as the competition coming from cheaper markets, the Athens Hoteliers Association suggested in its March newsletter, which came out yesterday. It said major tour operators at the recent International Tourism Fair Exchange in Berlin reported declines of 5 to 30 percent in the sales of packaged tours to Greece in the year to February 25, with German tourists showing a preference for Turkey, a rival market. The association also reported pressure exerted by German travel operators to get their Greek counterparts to cut their package deals by as much as 10 percent. With concerns over the war keeping tourists at home, the capital’s hotels reported little change in their occupancy rate in February. Luxury-class hotels filled only 43 percent of their rooms and «A» category hotels, 55 percent. Hotels in the «B» category improved their occupancy rate to 58 percent from 50 percent in the same period last year, the biggest gain of all categories. Separately, the Hellenic Association of Travel and Tourist Agencies yesterday announced the setting up of a Balkan Federal Association of Travel and Tourist Agencies as part of efforts to promote the growth of the industry in the region.