ECONOMY

Athens hoteliers seen inflating prices for the Olympic season

Greedy Athenian hotel owners run the risk of killing the goose that lays the golden eggs by pushing for exorbitant price rises for the Olympics which could dash hopes for brisker tourist business around the time of the Games. According to the head of Greece’s tourism authority, EOT, many of the hotel room pricing suggestions for 2004 submitted to it were so over the top that EOT is holding off its approval as it tries to negotiate the hoteliers down. «In many cases, the (hotel) prices were seven or eight times higher than last year,» EOT Chairman Haris Kokkosis told the Internet publication TravelDailyNews in an interview dated Monday. «Most prices were between 50 and 100 percent higher than last year.» A source in the tourism industry said that with 90 percent of the capital’s hotel rooms pledged to Games organizers Athens 2004 at already fixed rates, the remaining hotels thought they could well afford hiking up their prices and still get customers. «The prices in these hotels, which are mostly B and C categories, are double from last year, and way above what they should be charging based on the quality of services they offer,» the source said. Kokkosis added that while the State could not interfere in what is essentially a free market shaped by supply and demand, EOT was urging hoteliers to keep price hikes reasonable and not to jeopardize the future of Greek tourism by going for short-term gain. Tourism professionals fear high prices will keep individual visitors, precisely those likely to be repeat customers, away from Athens and Greece. «When people abroad go to their travel agent to ask about travel to the Olympics, they find the prices forbidding, often double from last year, so end up deciding to go elsewhere,» said Yiannis Christopoulos, who runs a travel agency in Athens. While many countries offering the same sea-and-sun holiday formula as Greece are reporting a steady recovery from last year’s slump, the Olympic host country’s key tourism sector continues to sputter. Spain is set to enjoy a stronger 2004 despite the March 11 train bombings in Madrid, while other Mediterranean beach destinations like Croatia, Tunisia and Turkey are also seen growing, Spanish tourism industry body Exceltur said in April. In contrast, Kokkosis said that in the first four months of 2004, hotel bookings were down between 18 percent and 21 percent compared to last year, partly because tourism was not well promoted as part of the overall Games advertising. Greece’s hoteliers have also said the country is not likely to draw more tourists this year despite hosting the Olympics but point to insufficient marketing rather than price hikes. «We have set hotel rates at last year’s level and in some cases these are even lower than last year’s charges,» said Giorgos Tsakiris, head of the Athens Hotel Association.