ECONOMY

Minister upbeat on tourism prospects in aftermath of September 11 attack on USA

The domestic tourism industry is not expected to suffer any major fallout from the September 11 events due to a series of measures that the government plans to take, Development Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos said yesterday. We are optimistic that the sector next year will remain at this year’s levels, he told a press conference. The official optimism came as industry representatives expressed fears of a prolonged downturn already evident in slackening demand for travel and accommodation. Hoteliers, travel agents and cruise companies said that bookings have fallen dramatically following the attacks on the USA. Tsochadzopoulos said the State plans to take an active role in limiting the damage. One way of countering the decline in inbound tourist traffic is to stimulate domestic demand. We must boost domestic tourism and at the same time lengthen the duration of the tourist season by expanding social tourism [the state-subsidized travel program for low-income wage-earners and pensioners], he stressed. Another measure involves promoting Greece abroad. Tsochadzopoulos said an advertising campaign will be launched next month, while the Greek National Tourist Organization (GNTO) offices abroad have been briefed on how to boost the country’s image. Officials are also due to meet with their European counterparts for updates on the situation. The minister said a long-term strategy for the tourism industry will focus on enhancing quality, taking a a value-for-money approach and improving infrastructure. He also expressed his determination to speed up measures and evaluation processes, among them the implementation of the star classification system for hotels. In the meantime, hotels have not scaled back their investment plans, either for expansion or construction of new accommodation. Tsochadzopoulos also announced datelines for the selloff of assets belonging to Hellenic Tourism Property, the asset management subsidiary of GNTO which is scheduled to be floated on the Athens Stock Exchange in the first half of 2002 and is currently looking for a strategic investor. The casino on Mount Parnes is expected to find a new majority owner-cum-manager by the end of February while the marinas at Zea, Alimos and Flisvou should end up in private hands by March. A June deadline has been set for tenders for a convention center to be built at the old Hellenikon airport, a theme park at Anavyssos and the golf course at Afandou on Rhodes. Referring to GNTO, the minister said the organization expects to see a 45 percent rise in nine-month revenues to 35 billion drachmas and a 55 percent increase in operating profits to 18 billion drachmas.