Greece yesterday reiterated its hopes that the tourism industry will pick up pace later this year following the end of the war in Iraq and despite the threat posed by the SARS epidemic. Preliminary signs show the sector appears to be recovering from the decline in bookings posted in the March-April period, when the war in Iraq was taking place, Development Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos, who is also in charge of tourism, said yesterday. «We had declines of 10 percent in some places, 15 percent in others and 20 percent elsewhere,» he said. He said initial signs show the sector appears to be getting back on track and could even make up for the early-year losses. «I expect and hope that we will have a better year, overcoming the losses in the first four months just like when we did with September 11,» he said. The government is targeting tourist arrivals of 14 million this year, unchanged from 2002. The optimism came as the global travel industry is facing yet another threat in the shape of the SARS epidemic, which has appeared in more than 20 countries and killed close to 400 people. Greece has not reported any cases to date. Akis Tsochadzopoulos renewed his call for a joint tourism policy with neighboring countries, saying this would lead to increased state support and more effective marketing for the industry. Tsochadzopoulos also defended indebted flag carrier Olympic Airways and its ongoing attempts to create a leaner and smaller operation. The European Commission last month referred Greece to the Court of Justice for failing to recover close to 200 million euros in misused state aid from the airline. He said the airline plays an important role in the local tourism industry and is deemed crucial to the success of the 2004 Olympic Games. Key to Olympic’s survival is its ability to stitch up an alliance with regional airlines, he said.