The government is drawing up plans to improve the picture and operation of ports and airports with a view to bolstering the tourism industry, Deputy Tourism Minister Anastassios Liaskos said yesterday. The plans «envisage a strengthening of sea and air transport connections throughout the country, particularly of the island areas and in the summer months, so as to facilitate the balanced development of tourism,» Liaskos told the international conference on transport and technology and their contribution to the tourism industry (TRANSTEC 2004), held at the Athens Hilton. Liaskos said the ministry is planning a strategy for transportation facilities with other ministries, which includes the construction of new airports, as in Naxos and Tripolis, the speeding up of major roadworks such the Egnatia highway across northern Greece, the western axis which includes the new Rio-Antirio bridge, and the central Greece axis that will improve access to the Egnatia from the south. He said that Greece will also undertake an initiative in the European Union for the conversion of the E10 axis from Munich to Thessaloniki into a limited access highway, with a view to boosting traffic inflows to the resorts of northern Greece and winter tourism in the islands of the northern Aegean. Further provision will be made for financing connections between the Egnatia project and the capitals of the neighboring countries – under the framework of the Greek Plan for the Economic Reconstruction of the Balkans – and small local projects that will upgrade the quality of tourism for motorists, particularly in the most popular sites. Warning The Institute of Tourism Research and Forecasting (ITEP) said in a statement that tapping the benefits of the successful staging of the Olympic Games for the Greek tourism industry will require specific initiatives and actions. «The Olympic Games can work as ‘automatic pilot’ (for the industry) only in the short term and for ‘low flights.’ If the problems that made a promising sector problematic are not solved, the industry will return to a declining mode in the year after next. Direct competitors, indeed, in the midst of many terrorist attacks that target foreigners, are achieving phenomenal rates of growth in tourism. This is because they take care of the quality of their product, which they offer at a price justified by its quality – without Olympic Games, without unique islands, without a comparable cultural tradition,» said ITEP. Further, it warns that the government must be protected from the dangerous illusions caused by the «splendid» Olympic Games. «Enthusiasms of this kind are particularly dangerous, especially in these difficult fiscal times. The country must act, in terms of policy, as if the Olympic Games had not taken place. Otherwise, the game will be lost. The only hope left will be the merchant marine, which, despite its admirable performance, will not suffice to maintain even a moderate growth rate,» said ITEP.