ECONOMY

Tourism’s Achilles heel

The lack of strategy and targets has been one of the major reasons why Greek tourism has declined in competitiveness relative to other countries competing for the same markets. In recent years, other countries angling for the tourist dollar or euro, such as France, Italy, Spain and Turkey, have proceeded on the basis of a master plan and upgraded their tourism products accordingly. Characteristic examples are the development of special forms of tourism, such as golf courses, conference centers, marinas and thalassotherapy centers. In vivid contrast, most plans announced so far in Greece remain on paper. For instance, a program for constructing 30 golf courses was announced five years ago, but to date work has begun on only one, on Crete. In France, the number of golf courses has risen from 187 in 1987 to 523 today. Spain has 207 in resort complexes which also feature basketball and squash courts, swimming pools, horse riding and other entertainment facilities. In Italy too, the development of golf courses has been impressive in both quantity and quality, and they now number 232, of which 101 consist of 18 or more holes. Forty of them are in leisure complexes, most of them in northern Italy. And over the last 20-30 years, Portugal has become a major pole of attraction for European golf lovers, having now about 50 courses, of which 38 are 18-hole or more. Turkey, which used to lag far behind Greece in tourism, has almost managed to catch up in the number of foreign arrivals this year by adopting an aggressive policy. Against Greece’s four golf courses, it now has eight – up from just two two years ago – and 10 more are now being built. Greece’s great regional variety does not at all justify this poor showing. The situation with regard to marinas is also far from the desired level, but things are improving. Greece has 19 marinas with a total capacity of 6,500 vessels, compared to Turkey’s capability of docking 9,000 and higher-quality facilities. The envisaged doubling of capacity by next year would be positive news if it comes about, but does not justify the delays up to this point. Completion is projected to increase tourism business in the off season and must receive special attention and priority given the enormous potential of the country’s island regions. The Olympic Games of 2004 now seem a golden opportunity as the bases have been laid for the implementation of investment and promotion programs abroad.