ECONOMY

Greek tourism to draw on cultural wealth

In a drive to shift tourism up a gear, Greece is expected to implement policies aimed at boosting the country’s traditional tourism activities while also creating new forms of tourism revolving around its vast cultural wealth. The lost chance represented by the current runup to the Olympic Games is an example of what should have been avoided. Greece is the first country to host the Games and report a drop in tourism traffic. The government is already working at forming a post-Games strategy which will focus on the world’s largest sporting event set to take place later this year in Athens. Among Greece’s other priorities is the formation of policies that will lead to long-term growth, extending the tourism season’s length, and introducing tourism activity to parts of Greece where it has never before existed. According to sources, this plan will be implemented with the State’s cooperation (government authorities, local municipalities) and all organized tourism bodies. It also foresees the introduction of certain economic measures aimed at boosting investment. The first step has been taken, with the establishment of the Tourism Ministry or the soon-to-be-renamed Tourism Development Ministry. This was a pre-election promise by the conservative New Democracy party which Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis has already fulfilled. The Tourism Ministry, headed by Dimitris Avramopoulos and his deputy minister Anastassios Liaskos, has already taken shape and form. The ministry’s two leaders are currently composing a draft bill which outlines their responsibilities and those undertaken by Greece’s tourism authority, EOT. One of the points this current draft bill aims at addressing is the sharing of responsibilities between the Tourism and other ministries. Important issues that require joint decisions will be collectively dealt with by the ministries of Tourism, Public Works, Finance, and Public Order. These collective decisions will relate to issues including the designating of national and local land planning for primary and secondary tourism infrastructure projects and the issuing of presidential decrees. Other tourism issues which demand joint action by the ministries relate to: – The outlining of geographical areas which have priority for tourism growth; – The development of the tourism police, which can support the sector’s activities; and – The establishment of incentives for tourism in mountainous areas and islands with the aim of providing better living conditions for local residents. In a bid to strengthen the country’s tourism authority, EOT will be given more say in certain fields. Top priority will be given to the promotion of Greek tourism assisted by every means of communication. It is also thought likely that a government body will be set up to insure companies against problems created by circumstances beyond their control, such as earthquakes and flooding. Another idea which has been discussed in the past and seems to be gaining ground is the funding of EOT from the gross revenues earned by ETA, Greek Tourism Properties. Karamanlis will open a new chapter for the country’s vitally important tourism sector later this week when he is expected to speak at a conference hosted by the Association of Greek Tourist Enterprises (SETE). The personal interest shown by Karamanlis in the country’s tourism sector, in combination with the apathy shown by the previous ruling Socialist government, has created expectations among tourism’s business community that the sector will experience a new spurt of growth on the back of government initiatives. Tourism’s biggest enemies in the past were incomplete policies. The only positive developments in Greek tourism came about thanks to the country’s rich heritage and a series of private initiatives. More than a year ago the country’s current prime minister had described tourism as an economic strength of national importance with benefits for everyone.