ECONOMY

Planned overhaul fails to dent tourism sector gloom

The Greek tourism business community seems to be growing a hard shell of indifference to repeated government announcements of the same support measures for the industry. Tourism entrepreneurs argue that at the end of its four-year term and after having wasted the opportunity to tap next year’s Olympic Games as a major promotion factor for the country, the government is now only able to conduct a map exercise on the possible benefits after the event. They point out China’s drive to utilize the 2008 Beijing Games to promote its tourism industry five years before the event. The general feeling appears to be that despite a recent campaign to persuade tourism entrepreneurs that something has changed, the government’s actual record to date betrays a tendency to stick to the attitude of the 1980’s, «We shall not become Europe’s waiters,» in contrast to what upcoming rival countries in the region are doing; Bulgaria, Turkey and Croatia are among the most obvious examples of nations energetically seeking to elevate tourism as one of their major currency earners. According to sources, the government will shortly present a comprehensive restructuring plan for the country’s tourism administration. Serious misgivings are being expressed as to whether the reshuffling of responsibilities among the Development Ministry’s General Secretariat for Tourism, the Greek National Tourism Organization (GNTO) and the promotion company will prove effective, as initial reports indicate that the changes are tailored to suit specific individuals rather than targeting the creation of a mechanism for the solution of substantial problems. Nevertheless, nothing seems to have been finalized yet, and given that the two new heads of the secretariat, Constantinos Botopoulos, and of the GNTO, Nikos Dimadis, appointed last week, are newcomers to the sector, significant improvements in the final plan may still be possible. Tourism industry officials refer to worrying reports on the prospects for the number of arrivals from the UK next year. Andreas Andreadis, member of the Panhellenic Federation of Hoteliers (POE), citing recent data by market research company Nielsen, takes the view that if immediate measures are not adopted, Greece will suffer a double-digit percentage drop in arrivals from the UK, Greece’s largest market source. Bookings in October, he says, were down 33.5 percent from a year earlier, with the most affected areas being Rhodes (41.5 percent), Zakynthos (38.5 percent) and Kos (35 percent). Andreadis argues that Greece was ill-equipped to face competition from the western Mediterranean in the period of instability after September 11, in terms of infrastructure, promotion and level of services. Being inside the eurozone also means the country cannot use devaluation as a possible competition tool. It is also greatly dependent on charter flights and tour operators, and more expensive than competitors outside the eurozone such as Turkey, Croatia, Bulgaria, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco.