ECONOMY

SETE wants long-term focus on tourism

The Association of Greek Tourist Enterprises (SETE) yesterday urged the government to abandon its present piecemeal approach in promoting the country’s tourism industry and instead adopt a long-term policy and even set up a tourism ministry. It also called on the state to stop dragging its feet over a number of vital sectors such as opening up the markets, implementing the proposed development law and setting up a star rating system for hotels. SETE president Stavros Andreadis said the newly appointed head of the tourism division at the Development Ministry should consider a long-term strategy as his first priority and that the program should set out clear qualitative and quantitative goals. He said that the task has taken on added urgency in view of the current global crisis. In the meantime, SETE has come up with a list of proposals intended to boost demand, alleviate the burden on tourism operators and strengthen the industry’s competitiveness. The SETE head said improving charges and fees could make facilities more competitive and at the same time spur tourist demand. We need to slash the Spatosima (airport development charge) fees at the Eleftherios Venizelos airport, cut levies at regional airports, hold down entrance charges at museums and archaeological sites, and subsidize labor, he stressed. The state could stimulate domestic demand by allowing travelers to write off a bigger portion of their travel expenses. Andreadis warned of the dangers of price-cutting in the industry, something which tour operators could be tempted to do in order to induce demand. We are almost certain that last-minute reservations will increase in the new tourist season and that there will be pressure for lower prices. However, the industry should not be a party to this game, as it will come to nothing, he said. He also criticized the slow pace of tourist asset disposals. ETA, the asset management subsidiary of the Greek National Tourism Organization, has already launched a series of tenders for expressions of interest in its holdings ranging from marinas to the Parnitha casino, with a number of the outcomes expected only next year. The delay in implementing the development law, now pushed back to spring, is also a cause of concern and could possibly jeopardize European Union structural funds allocated for this purpose. Furthermore, the procrastination has caused companies to hold back their investment programs. Other issues that should be speeded up are the construction of a convention center at the old Hellenikon airport and the creation of a star rating system for hotels. Andreadis proposed opening up ground handling services at regional airports and the immediate abolition of cabotage in the passenger shipping industry. SETE member Theodore Vasilakis who is also head of Aegean Airlines, said the delay in resolving the Olympic Airways problem could leave the country without a national carrier just as it is due to host the Olympic Games in 2004.