ECONOMY

Infrastructural shortcomings hold back winter tourists

The Research Institute for Tourism (ITEP) yesterday charged that the absence of a long-term strategy and appropriate infrastructure has stunted the winter tourism industry in Greece even as rival destinations such as Cyprus and Turkey rapidly gain ground. ITEP economist Panayiotis Pavlopoulos said the sector’s marginal role could be seen in its small contribution to annual tourist arrivals. ‘Winter tourists account for just 9 percent of annual incoming tourists in Greece against 25 percent in rival countries, he pointed out. Between 1975 to 1998, popular tourist countries such as France, Spain, Italy and Portugal reported marginal to dramatic increases in the number of winter tourists. Greece in contrast saw a 38.2-percent drop in that period. There are indications that the decline is continuing, with the sector characterized by high seasonability, even as other countries report increases, Pavlopoulos said. He said part of the blame could be laid on inadequate tourism infrastructure such as roads and ports, and the absence of proper supervision. Furthermore, Greece has failed to promote alternative forms of tourism such as thematic holidays, incentive travel and activity-oriented programs, concepts which have proved to be very popular among young travelers and others seeking a change from mass tourism. Pavlopoulos said geography plays an equally important role in limiting winter tourism. It is important to note Greece’s distance from other countries. This and high traveling costs affect the sector to a certain degree, he pointed out. Greece could remedy the situation by focusing on segments of the market and implementing programs to cater to certain groups. With pensioners, weekend vacationers and business travelers constituting the bulk of winter tourists, the State should draw up a campaign targeted at these groups, the ITEP economist suggested. We should have special tourism infrastructure and organizational programs to attract these groups of tourists, he said. Acknowledging the necessity of upgrading the country’s dilapidated and aging tourism assets, Development Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos said yesterday that procedures to privatize state-owned marinas and state-run beaches in the Attica basin are on schedule. We expect to launch the second phase of the privatization process in 10 to 12 days, he affirmed. Separately, business consultants JBR Hellas, which is part of Horwath Franchise Consulting Services, said that the closure of the Grand Bretagne and Hilton hotels over the next two years for renovation could boost demand for other hotels. Luxury hotels in particular could see a 20-22 billion-drachma increase in revenues, it said. Two thirds of this are estimated to come from accommodation and the remaining from restaurants and other hotel facilities. The closure of the two hotels is expected to deprive Athens of 280,000 to 300,000 reservations. JBR Hellas said the re-opening of the two hotels in 2003 could jack up room rates by 20 to 30 percent.