ECONOMY

Greece expects record tourist arrivals this year, group says

Greece may draw a record number of more than 17 million tourists this year as fears of a euro exit dissipates and a decrease in strikes helps the country’s image abroad, the head of the Athens-Attica Hotels Association said.

“We are facing a more stable future,” Alexandros Vassilikos said at a press conference in Athens late Wednesday. “What was happening a year or two ago was that anything in Greece was front page news all day, no matter the scale.”

Strikes and demonstrations to oppose austerity measures demanded by the euro area and International Monetary Fund to keep Greece in the euro area, and political instability that led to two elections in May and June, deterred tourists from visiting Greece last year. The number of international visits to Greece fell 5.5 percent to 15.5 million last year, Hellenic Statistical Authority data released on April 23 showed.

Tourists are being drawn back to Athens, the capital, after prices for accommodation dropped due to the crisis, Vassilikos said. In the last three years 40 hotels in the wider Attica region, which includes Athens and neighboring islands, have closed and hotel prices have dropped about 45 percent on average, he said.

The sector accounted for almost 16 percent of Greece’s gross domestic product in 2011, according to the London-based World Travel and Tourism Council. Greece can attract as much as 11 billion euros ($14.3 billion) in direct revenue from the tourism sector this year, Anastasios Liaskos, the Culture and Tourism Ministry’s general secretary, said in February.

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, who formed a three- party coalition government in June, said earlier this month that he expects record tourism receipts this year.

Stable tax policies, simpler visa issuance procedures and organized dissemination of information to visitors are key factors for the sector, which can help drive growth in Greece, Vassilikos said. A poll of 3,000 tourists in Athens last year showed 60 percent were unaware that there are beaches within 30 minutes of the city and 65 percent didn’t know that within an hour you can be on an island, he said. [Bloomberg]