Many hotels are forced to start season late

The beginning of the tourist season in Greece traditionally coincides with the Easter holiday. This year, with Orthodox Easter just over a week away, many hotels across the country will remain shut. Travel agents and hotel owners say that this year is one of the worst for Greece’s tourist industry. The war in Iraq has led many prospective foreign visitors to cancel or not book at all. Greek households’ tight finances, which belie the image of a fast-growing economy, have made Easter vacation a luxury, hurting the industry even more, since the Easter holidays always include a stronger-than-usual component of domestic travelers. The third factor that has kept visitors away is the unusually cold weather. With cancellations succeeding one another rapidly, hoteliers are pinning their hopes on Eastern European travelers. «The war has made people reluctant to travel; as a result, business is way down,» Paris Papadeas, a travel agency owner, told Kathimerini. «Trips abroad have seen a greater reduction, but even on the domestic front, business is subdued. Many tour operators’ contracts have been canceled,» he adds. According to the president of the Association of Halkidiki Hoteliers, Makis Athanassopoulos, it is foreigners who are more reluctant to travel. «The Greeks are less affected, business with them is satisfactory, But in our traditional markets, such as the UK and Germany, bookings are down 30 percent,» he told Kathimerini. For that reason, Halkidiki hoteliers have turned their attention to the Balkan countries, which are nearby, and to Russia. «We hope that things will improve when the situation in Iraq clears up completely… In any case, May is expected to be a difficult month,» Athanassopoulos adds. Like other colleagues of his among the northern Greece hoteliers, he asks for bureaucratic barriers to issuing visas for Eastern Europeans to be lowered. «We must act like our competitors, Spain and Portugal,» he says. A similar situation exists in another popular Easter destination, Hania, on the island of Crete. «We have had a lot of cancellations; don’t forget that we had an extra aggravating factor, Souda,» says Giorgos Vouyoukalakis, president of the Association of Hania Hoteliers. The presence of a NATO naval base at Souda Bay, heavily used by the Americans during the war in Iraq, raised security concerns in the area. When the war started, Vouyoukalakis says, hotels were inundated with cancellations. Now things appear to have stabilized. «In any case, April is a lost month for us… Many hotels, which traditionally opened in early April, will open at Easter or even later,» he says.