ECONOMY

Tourism job woes grow

A number of luxury first-class hotels are offering all-inclusive, one-night deals for as little as 20 euros, a sign which highlights the difficult times the industry is going through, according to the vice president of the Association of Greek Tourist Enterprises (SETE), Nikos Angelopoulos. Angelopoulos told Kathimerini in an interview that the crisis which has hit the sector will result in a large number of tourism employees not being able to find work in their field. Others will be unable to obtain the required number of social security stamps that will allow them to register and qualify for unemployment benefits at the Manpower Organization (OAED). SETE’s vice president was not optimistic about the sector in the post-Olympic Games era and also spoke about the downward trend tourism has not been able to break out of in the last few years. What has tourism traffic been like so far in 2004? I have nothing to add to what has already been said by political leaders and the private sector. Unfortunately, the downward trend in Greek tourism for the last three years, in 2004 as well, is continuing and there’s no sign that it has stopped. Signs of a break in the trend, not of a rebound, are what we are all waiting for since we are in an Olympic year. But this is unfortunately not happening for the country as a whole, with the exception of Athens. The complete lack of a strategy to connect the Olympic Games to Greece has resulted in a negative record being set in this country. Greece is the only nation which has seen its tourism arrivals slide despite the hosting of the Games. If we want to talk about a rebound, the problem is even bigger and an exceptionally difficult issue to solve since medium- to long-term planning is required, something which has never been on any political leader’s agenda. The taking of such measures, by whichever government, requires an awareness of the exceptional role this sector plays economically and socially. What will be the consequences from the estimated occupancy rates? The slide in occupancy rates and the lack of planning for today’s market conditions have led to a serious dip in tourists staying overnight and to an even more serious drop in revenues since there is a deterioration in the quality of tourists. This translates into a slide in tourism spending per capita. It is self-evident that all of these negative features will result in a drop in jobs. Therefore, a number of employees that are traditionally involved in tourism will not work this year in the industry, while others will not be able to obtain the sufficient number of social security stamps to qualify for benefits at the Manpower Organization (OAED). What are the predictions for 2005? All of these facts do not point to any positive developments in the next tourist period. In fact, all the indications, up to today, at best point to a price freeze. We cannot make predictions about a drop in tourism arrivals since this depends directly on average price levels secured in agreements with tour operators. At this point, I would like to make a point with respect to the competitiveness of Greek tourism. After Greece’s entry into the single currency, the country lost a serious advantage, a weak currency. This, in combination with the arrival of new low-cost tourist destinations, resulted in Greece very quickly becoming expensive in comparison with its competitors. Costs, labor costs in particular, play a decisive role in determining competitiveness. As far as labor costs are concerned, these also included employer social security contributions, which in our country are very high and cannot be compared to other countries. The State’s lack of attention to this problem will very soon result in a reduction in jobs in the tourism sector and also in a drop in money received by pension funds. One can understand how an employment problem is brought on when a top-class hotel offers an overnight product for 20 euros with only a skeleton staff, as it aims at ensuring its own survival.