GNTO head calls for better quality but pros complain about losses

Yiannis Patelis, head of Greece’s National Tourism Organization (GNTO), believes that both public authorities, like the GNTO, and, even more, private operators must adapt to the rapid changes in the international market. Adaptation to the new realities must be quick and «bloodless,» he says. Conditions in international tourism would have altered anyway, Patelis says, but the events of September 11 have changed all that. Client habits have changed, too, and there are fewer packages being sold months ahead to organized groups and more last minute offers, which now account for 40-50 percent of the market. As a result, thousands of airplanes, once chartered by tour operators to transport organized groups now lie idle at airports all over Europe. The bankruptcy of charter company Aero Lloyd, which had a very young fleet, is characteristic of the cutthroat competition which has seen ticket and holiday package prices plummet. The introduction of the euro has also made price comparisons easier. Patelis wonders whether Athens, Rhodes or Corfu will be able to compete with destinations such as Rome and Majorca, which offer weekend packages for 100-150 euros, or, against cheaper destinations, such as Turkey, Bulgaria and Croatia. The answer, he says, lies in offering better quality products and in looking for new markets for tourists. The 2004 Athens Olympics offer Greece the opportunity to offer a greater range of products than the usual «sun and sea» combination. A bad season However, this tourist season was not a good one for Greece. A year ahead of the 2004 Olympics, tourism professionals not only failed to see any recovery but say the industry is going through its worst crisis in the past 30 years. GNTO officials claim that the year will end with a 3 percent decline in the number of tourist arrivals. Professionals believe this figure will be closer to 5 percent and that the total number of overnight stays will decline 10 percent. The losses are greater from countries with relatively high-spending tourists, which is expected to further depress revenues. Hoteliers and tour operators say they were forced to cut prices dramatically in order to attract last-minute customers. This will, in the long run, also affect the quality of services offered, they say. According to professional estimates, given that the tourism sector accounts for about 20 percent of Greece’s gross domestic product (GDP) and employs 17 percent of the workforce, a 10 percent reduction in revenues from tourism depresses GDP by two percentage points and increases the jobless rate by 1.7 percent.