Hopes of tourism recovery dim despite Olympic year

Tourism entrepreneurs are not optimistic about the future of Greece’s main currency-earning industry, dashing earlier hopes that 2004, being the country’s Olympic year, would provide a permanent boost. «We are at the beginning of this crucial Olympic year, and expectations had been cultivated that it would lead to a recovery after three years of stagnation. Indications to date point to anything but such a development, and prospects do not seem favorable,» says Stavros Andreadis, chairman of the Association of Greek Tourist Enterprises (SETE). The main reason for the downbeat forecast, according to Andreadis, is that the sector continues to suffer from a lack of planning and chronic and structural problems which are dealt with by piecemeal measures, eroding its competitiveness. He sounds a warning bell, that recent events have rendered inhospitable the investment climate in the industry. In an environment where illicit vested interests remain prominent, as a result of bureaucracy and the lack of a clear institutional framework, healthy entrepreneurial initiatives are crushed, Andreadis complains. «How is a young businessman supposed to venture into tourism when he would at any moment be in danger of losing everything as collateral damage in the war between political parties? How can he convince foreign investors to bring their money to a country unable to guarantee a stable investment environment?» he adds. Makis Kalligeros, Panhellenic Hoteliers’ Association (POX) secretary, is anxious because institutional measures are not adopted and chronic problems remain unsolved. He believes that policy must move in two directions, based on strategy and specific targets, and that a specific timetable has to be set for tapping new foreign markets and further developing existing ones. He notes that last year’s development incentives law effectively neglected tourism enterprises and that the new government after March 7 must revive investment priorities in the sector. Kalligeros agrees that prospects this year are not good, despite the Olympics. He argues that although the private sector continues to invest, public infrastructure continues to lag behind in terms of roads, ports and regional airports. He notes that the financial results of most tourist enterprises have been declining in recent years, due to the gradual loss in competitiveness which increases their vulnerability. The effort to promote Greece abroad is a further problem, according to Kalligeros, as it is ineffective, untimely and piecemeal. He says it must give way to aggressive and specialized public relations efforts, with a view to four years ahead. It is unprecedented for an Olympic city to have an 11.5 percent drop in hotel capacity utilization the year before the Games, he notes. Thessaloniki no better The chairman of Thessaloniki’s Association of Hoteliers, Aristeidis Thomopoulos, says business was down 5 percent in 2003. The impact of the Olympic Games on the city will be minimal, he predicts, and there is no sign of a recovery. Besides, the picture with resort hotels is not at all good, as bookings from Germany and the UK, the two main sources of visitors, are showing a significant lag. He believes this is largely due to the country’s failure in recent years to link promotion abroad with the Olympic Games.