Tourism association head warns of the coming crisis for Greece

Greek tourism is «a rudderless vessel,» says Stavros Andreadis, president of the Association of Greek Tourist Enterprises (SETE); he believes that if a series of measures are not adopted, the industry may not just lose the benefits from next year’s Olympic Games but could even suffer irreparable damage. The challenge of the Olympics means that the government has to create mechanisms for managing crises, which may either have an objective cause or be instigated by competitors, he emphasizes; the fact that the eyes of the world will be on Greece means there is no room for mistakes as in previous years, which painted a black picture of Greek tourism. As an example, he mentions this summer’s incidents in Faliraki, Rhodes, which were excessively publicized, especially in the foreign press, creating a completely erroneous impression about what Greek tourism has to offer. Andreadis is seriously concerned about what he calls the systematically negative projection of Greek destinations, insisting that if this picture persists into 2004, the country will receive much more adverse publicity as the organizer of the Olympics. SETE, he says, has submitted a proposal to the Greek National Tourism Organization (GNTO) for a jointly planned and financed advertising campaign within Greece, targeting both the broad public and professionals. Recent changes in the investment incentives law, Andreadis says, introduce bold measures for the very largest projects, but fail to offer commensurate support to the middle- and small-hotel industry. He argues there should be an overall balance in incentives in order not to give an impression of unequal treatment. However, he believes the crucial test for Greek tourism in the next five years will be in the field of training rather than investment. But the recently approved framework for tourism training is «inadequate,» as in no case does it create the prerequisites for Greece to reach the college level of studies in Switzerland, France or England, he says. Now, there is a need for crash courses for tourism staff in view of the Olympic Games. SETE’s president believes the government must give much greater weight to the problems of tourism, given its contribution to the national economy. He notes that tourism accounted for 30 percent of total investment under the incentives law last year compared to 13 percent in 1998, while the share of manufacturing has fallen from 84 percent to 61 percent. He thinks the stability or even drop in tour operators’ prices in recent years is disquieting. He is also concerned about the trend – projected to grow in coming years – for the big operators shifting their preference from small to big destinations. GNTO GNTO President Yiannis Patellis thinks that criticism, such as SETE’s, of inadequate promotion of the country abroad is misplaced; it is not the job of GNTO to sell packages or sea tourism, he argues. On the contrary, he suggests that GNTO’s promotional efforts have not been picked up on by private entrepreneurs. Citing data, he asks what more could the organization have done in the UK, Austria or Russia, for instance, where preference for Greece is strong. On the contrary, he argues, GNTO’s work has contributed to consolidating this preference. «The usual criticism and grumbling that we do not have enough promotion is completely contrary to reality,» he says. According to data of the Association of British Travel Agents, Greece is the second favorite destination in the UK; it has top preference for Austrians, while it places third in Germany and France and 10th in the US. Patellis argues that the cost effectiveness of tourism advertising is not automatic. For instance, he says, the top three preferences among Russian tourists this year were Turkey, Spain and Greece. Cyprus was fourth and Italy fifth. Turkey spent $6 million on advertising in Russia. The second largest sum was spent by Egypt, $3 million. Greece, mainly through indirect advertising, such as invitations to journalists and the energetic presence of GNTO’s bureau in Moscow, managed to achieve competitive results at a much lower cost. As regards the criticism that the advertising campaign was not on time this year, Patellis insists that it is necessary to realize that tourists’ habits have changed since September 11; they no longer book as early as Christmas for their summer vacations as they used to do. Last-minute bookings have become the rule; for instance, 40 percent of packages in the UK were still unsold by June. And so he poses the question to the private entrepreneurs: «Should we have spent what little money we had for advertising when the war in Iraq was looming and no one knew when it would end?» He points out that as soon as the war ended, although it was followed by the outbreak of the SARS epidemic, GNTO’s direct advertising was launched, always accompanied by indirect promotion, «which we strongly believe in.»