The government yesterday renewed its overtures to Greek shipowners to tap the new investment opportunities and growth potential of the tourism sector. «Greek tourism is at the threshold of a new era. The country is opening its gates to large investment schemes. In this framework, Greek shipping, and the Greek investing community in particular, is invited to tap the opportunities with joint projects,» Tourism Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos told the Piraeus Shipping Club. He noted that such projects have already got under way. Avramopoulos said that after a declining trend over the last few years, the Greek tourism industry is now stabilizing and on its way to a rebound. In contrast to other Mediterranean competitors such as Spain, Italy and Portugal, all of which forecast a downturn this year, Greece is expecting a rise in arrivals this year and next. Hoteliers gloomy Arrivals in Athens may have increased in the first quarter of 2005, according to Athens International Airport data, but Athens Hoteliers’ Association (EXA) figures show hotel occupancy rates down by an average 4.4 percent from last year. This is attributed to the increase in bed availability due to the Olympic Games, which has brought revenue per available room down by 12.2 percent. EXA noted that some hotels in Attica do not even cover the rent for their premises with their revenue per room, to say nothing about covering operation and financial costs. «The myth about expensive hotels in Athens is at least inaccurate, if not suspicious, given their excellent building and operational quality,» EXA said in a statement arguing that Attica hotels have one of the lowest revenue-per-available-room ratios among similar hotels in European cities. It added that publication of negative hotel occupancy data may do nothing for the sector’s image, but it encourages the tourism authorities to take initiatives to reverse the situation. On a more positive note, conference tourism has shown great demand for the coming years in Attica, EXA said. It is considered the fruit of the city’s worldwide exposure during the Olympics as well as of the attractive hotel and tourism post-Olympic product of Attica. By 19 May the land-use question of where the Athens Conference Center may be built will be answered, the CEO of Olympic Properties, Christos Hatziemmanouil, has promised EXA, as the government wants the center to operate as soon as possible. The World Tourism Organization projects tourism will be the fastest-growing sector worldwide in the next 20 years. In the EU some 6 percent of the work force are employed in tourism-linked activities, and this is estimated to rise to 9 percent by the end of the next decade. Greece’s rate is estimated to be above the EU average.