Jolt to alternative tourism looks to be temporary

Alternative, niche segments of the tourism market usually favored by those in the higher income brackets have not escaped the wrath of the country?s economic crisis.

?Despite their dynamic growth in recent years, agritourism and alternative tourism have felt the impact of the general drop in arrivals,? says Peggy Balitsari, manager of the agritourism network Guest Inn, which includes some 110 facilities across Greece.

Although this segment of the tourism market, mainly comprising visitors of a high educational background, was less affected by the economic crisis than the mass tourism market, its arrival figures were significantly lower this year — a fact confirmed by bookings and business in classic destinations such as archaeological sites in the Peloponnese and central Greece, Balitsari notes.

She points out that arrivals to date from the traditional European markets (France, the UK, Belgium, Germany and Switzerland) are down considerably compared to previous years. Nevertheless, Balitsari adds, the rate of last-minute bookings is particularly high, which shows that prospective travelers were strongly influenced by the negative climate prevailing until the June elections. She argues that political and economic stability greatly influence people?s choice of destination and notes that since the beginning of the summer season there have virtually been no cancellations, at least not for reason of political instability.

?Demand for September and October at the moment is developing better than it did for April and May, and this makes us hopeful that barring any exigencies Greek tourism will rebound in 2013,? Balitsari says.

All members of the Guest Inn network offered discounts of 10-30 percent this year, to which mainly foreign clients responded.

The biggest problem faced by the owners of guesthouses and small units is the huge pressure for price reductions by foreign tour operators and online booking sites. Balitsari argues for a serious and timely promotion campaign in foreign markets, and of agritourism services in particular.

Bookings in historic Greek hotels through tour operators and travel agencies are showing a marked decline, notes Varvara Avdi, founder of the 14-member strong Greek Historic Hotels chain and vice president of the Historic Hotels of Europe organization, with 650 members in 18 countries. The drop in arrivals from the UK and Germany currently stands at 15 percent but there has been a 20 percent rise in online and last-minute bookings from Central European countries.

?We invest in cultural, historic, gastronomic and naturalist tourism. We organize chef exchanges in hotels and host groups of trekkers, horticulturalists and bird watchers,? Avdi says.