Tourism professionals braced for tough winter season

The tourism sector in Greece is bracing itself for one of its toughest periods yet this coming season, given that winter destinations rely almost exclusively on domestic tourism, which has been seriously hit by the economic crisis.

The downward trend in domestic tourism made itself felt this summer, as fewer Greeks decided to go away on holiday and those who did did so for fewer days and spent significantly less money.

According to data made available to Kathimerini, the number of passengers on domestic flights at all Greek airports in the period between January and August declined by 10 percent (or 437,675 passengers) compared to the same period in 2010, reaching 3,918,025 passengers.

Given the projected drop in numbers for the rest of the year, it is expected that all businesses involved in tourism are in for a tough winter season. However, in an effort to drum up more business, a number of domestic destinations have been promoting special deals for off-peak and midweek periods.

The first test for the sector will come with the October 28 national holiday, which falls on a Friday and therefore is ideal for travelers to organize a three- or four-day break. For the weekend in question, it is estimated that bookings for organized tourism packages will see a significant drop, while it will also prove a test for travel agencies that have also suffered as a result of the crisis.

City tourism, focused mainly on Athens and Thessaloniki, is also expected to decline this winter, along with conference tourism, which not only brings tourists in significant numbers to urban destinations, but also revenues.

George Tsakiris, president of the Hellenic Chamber of Hotels, told Kathimerini that he is not very optimistic about the outlook of domestic tourism this year. His estimate is that year-round destinations like Athens and Thessaloniki will be hit the hardest, partly because of the negative image they have due to factors arising as a result of the crisis and especially when it comes to tourism from abroad. Meanwhile, Tsakiris said, the crisis means that there are a lot fewer events organized in cities, reducing their allure, while Greeks have also cut back quite significantly on transportation and other costs related to travel.

?These factors,? said Tsakiris, ?come on top of a complete absence of a plan to deal with rising crime rates in large cities and well as measures to boost their image as attractive destinations.?

According to the president of the Association of Greek Travel and Tourist Agencies, Giorgos Telonis, ?Greeks in general are very hesitant about booking three-day vacation packages, while there also appears to be a slump in travel abroad for the national holiday long weekend on October 28-30. The majority of our clients interested in three-day breaks are civil servants, pensioners and the self-employed. These groups have suffered the worst from the crisis and they see more suffering to come. This means that they tend to book at the last minute, and certainly in fewer numbers compared to last year.?

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