5 pct drop in tourist arrivals this year forecast by ITEP

The tourism industry could face a 5 percent decline in tourist arrivals this year following a 1.5 percent dip last year as the specters of terrorism and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) weigh on travelers, the Research Institute for Tourism (ITEP) warned yesterday. The gloomy forecast runs counter to the government’s restrained optimism. Tourism arrivals this year should remain stable at last year’s level of 14 million, Development Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos, who is in charge of tourism, said last week. The sector should be able to make up for lost ground in the coming months despite 10-20 percent falls in tourist bookings in the first four months of the year, he forecast. This year could turn out to be as disastrous as 1991, when tourist arrivals plunged by 9.4 percent as the Gulf War sapped tourists’ appetite for Mediterranean destinations, ITEP said. However, the rapid end of the war in Iraq and a buildup in demand resulting from two consecutive years of declines should be able to contain the slowdown in tourist arrivals, it predicted. The institute said it was too early to estimate the fallout from the SARS outbreak, which has killed 560 people around the world and infected more than 7,400. Greece is listed as free of SARS. The global travel industry has been the worst hit by the virus as airlines slashed flights in response to a dramatic plunge in passenger volume, mostly to East and Southeast Asia. The government last week urged Greek hoteliers not to accept bookings from tourists coming from SARS-afflicted countries. Greek travel association HATTA, however, has criticized the recommendation as it urged the State to take more responsibility for admitting tourists into the country instead of shifting the onus to the travel industry. «The only sure or possible thing is a decline [in tourist arrivals],» ITEP said. The negative psychological climate resulting from terrorist threats is another factor holding back travelers. The institute said domestic factors are also to blame for the gloomy outlook, namely the relatively slow growth in the tourist industry and State inactivity in resolving long-term problems. It said the government’s decision to hold off its advertising campaign until the war in Iraq ended was a telling example of its tardiness. Greece would do well to exploit its islands, an asset which its competitors do not have, ITEP said.