Greek tourism looking flat

Greek tourism professionals are bracing for yet another flat tourism season next year as they expect a weak dollar and stagnant European economies to offset the country’s gain in image from last August’s successful Athens Olympics. «We expect no increase in arrivals next year,» Maria Daskalantonaki, one of the country’s biggest hoteliers, estimated yesterday. «With output growth of 2.6 percentage points this year, the European Union is the laggard of the world economy. One realizes how serious this is, considering that 90 percent of our market is there,» she told a news conference. With tourism receipts of nearly $10 billion (7.7 billion euros) generated by 14 million visitors, Greece is the world’s 10th largest tourism destination in dollar terms, according to 2002 figures by the World Tourism Organization (WTO). The dollar’s slide against the euro is another negative development because it diverts tourists to other destinations, said Petros Pavlopoulos, head of research at the Greek tourism industry’s research body ITEP. «It is a huge problem,» Pavlopoulos told the same news conference. «Italy and Spain are not our main competitors any more. It is rather countries where services are paid for in dollars, such as Turkey, Israel and Egypt,» he said. Mideast tourist markets benefit disproportionately from the current tourism boom, Pavlopoulos said, despite fears of extremist attacks against Western targets and tourists there. «If economic incentives are strong enough, people forget about terrorism,» Pavlopoulos said. Contrary to Daskalantonaki, Pavlopoulos said he expected a global tourism boom and post-Olympics publicity gains to benefit Greek tourism next year, even if slightly. «We are cautiously optimistic. It will be a failure if tourism arrivals increase by less than 5 percent next year,» he said. Tourism is Greece’s chief moneymaker. According to estimates, the industry accounts for 15 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, making it more important than manufacturing or agriculture. Tourism arrivals for 2004 are expected to decrease compared with 2003, as an unfavorable mix of stagnating European economies, fear of terrorist attacks and Olympics-related construction delays spoiled the country’s image ahead of the Games. But overall tourism receipts may not fall, as spending per tourist was higher because Olympic tourists spend more than average visitors, Pavlopoulos said. (AFP)