Tourism growth hampered by some antiquated perceptions

Obsolete mentalities in Greece must be abandoned if a favorable investment environment is to be cultivated, say tourism industry figures, as legislative measures alone are insufficient to attract capital. The issue of tourism education has in recent years become a continual point of debate in entrepreneurial tourism circles, which conclude that local communities lack proper information about how best to realize tourism investments. There may also be a few bad professionals in the sector, but this should not produce a negative attitude toward all tourism groups wishing to invest in Greece. A significant part of the blame goes to the state, which, particularly over the last decade, has not created the appropriate conditions to inform the people living in touristically underdeveloped areas about the benefits that tourism development can bring to their region. There have been no policies adopted for providing incentives to professional groups specializing in tourism. Tourism and shipping are the two sectors that bring in the most foreign currency. Furthermore, the impact of tourism investments on the environment has often, and wrongly, been judged in the same way as investment in other sectors. However, the construction of an industry plant cannot possibly have less of an impact on the environment than a new golf course. But at the very time when the issue of creating a new golf course in Greece was being debated down to the last detail, new golf courses were mushrooming in France, Spain, Portugal and Turkey, rendering their tourism product attractive throughout the year. Similarly, for 20 years the creation of a large conference center in Athens was debated, with the state stepping back repeatedly after a few isolated voices said the environment would suffer. We also got to the point of discussing again why, after the Olympics, the renovated hotels in Athens are far from full. And while professional and exhibition tourism are two of the most profitable forms of tourism wherever they are developed, over the past 20 years dozens of shopping centers have been erected along main avenues in Athens, which certainly burden the city more than a conference or exhibition center. A telling example can be found with hotel units outside Athens with large conference facilities, which would need to host just three big conferences during the winter season to balance out the expenses for staying open throughout the year – and this, of course, means jobs maintained in the winter and not just seasonally. The big international tour operators invest immense amounts of money to be informed about the state of the environment in the regions where their cooperating hotels are located, and they accordingly inform the tourists wishing to visit any holiday destination. This is because they believe that the natural beauty of a destination is paramount, and cannot be compared even with the best hotel with all the latest facilities. ‘Illegal cases’ Instead of focusing on hotels that have been built illegally on beaches, we usually protest about the infrastructure that a beach needs in order to serve those using it, deeming these illegal and damaging to the seaside. Such «illegal» cases may include the placing of wooden rubbish bins or woodwork to protect the swimmers’ feet from the sun. On the other hand, the ugly canteens we all see on beaches every summer – and along with us the 12 million tourists visiting Greece every year – usually escape the scrutiny of authorities, which have allocated them the appropriate permits. Also being criticized are infrastructures in sea tourism, specifically marinas that are slowly being created in Greece, while Turkey, Italy and Croatia are rapidly constructing ultramodern marinas, and in this way developing another profitable tourism niche. The pretext in Greece is the same; that such structures destroy the environment. Therefore, aside from a few exceptions on the islands, Greece retains low-quality marina infrastructures that fail to provide even the basics to yacht owners at docking points, namely provision of water, power and fuel. Diving tourism provides an identical case. This is a rapidly developing area in other countries such as Egypt and Malta, although in Greece we always find problems and pretexts to avoid developing it despite the rich marine life to be found in the Greek seas. And yet reactions are not always ingenuous, for ecological destruction is often the pretext for opposition to tourism investment projects. Phrases such as «cementization» or «destruction of the environment» are easily used without scrutiny of each individual investment effort. Of course, competition in the global tourism market is not interested in all this, and it follows the rules imposed by the realities of economics, leaving Greece to lag behind developments. Investment initiative The current government, and specifically the Ministry of Tourism Development, have shown a determination to change obsolete structures and perceptions that have long created counterincentives for nearly every investment effort made by foreign or domestic tourism groups. Along with this effort the mentality has to change if policy results are to emerge within the next decade’s time horizon. An initial opportunity for tangible examples of the new policy comes with the best use of the Olympic installations to the benefit of Greek tourism, as well as making the most of the public tourism property by the Tourism Development Company (ETA). The growth of entrepreneurial activity that does not burden the country’s budget and allows funds to be directed to other sectors does not necessarily signify destruction of the environment.

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