Greece’s tourism industry will see stronger-than-projected growth this year, Tourism Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos said. Speaking on the sidelines of a National Tourism Council session in Thessaloniki on Monday, he estimated that foreign arrivals this year will rise by 7-11 percent from last year, with particular strength coming from «traditional» west European countries of origin, the US and Russia. Avramopoulos said efforts to tap the huge Chinese market is projected to start bearing fruit by next mid-winter season. «We are seeing an improvement in the qualitative indicators of the incoming flows, a direct result of the country’s promotional campaign and the tapping of its positive post-Olympic image,» he said. Citing data from a National Bank of Greece study and the World Tourism Council (WTC), Avramopoulos said it is the first time that a country which has staged an Olympic Games registered a pickup in tourism the immediately following year. Other host countries or cities have usually had to wait two or three years for their tourism sector to recover, he added. «We are receiving only positive messages. We are through the difficult stage of stabilization and are now entering the recovery stage. We are on a good course and even higher growth is forecast for next year,» Avramopoulos said. He said that according to projections, Europe should expect an «invasion» of about 100 million Chinese tourists in the next five years. Greece is planning direct flights to and from China and will soon open a second national tourism bureau, in Shanghai. Avramopoulos said the Greek National Tourism Organization’s promotion campaign, based on the slogan «Live Your Myth in Greece,» has been a success and will continue with certain variations next year, on roughly the same amount of advertising outlay (30 million euros). He said it is imperative that the government unblock tourism investment plans that have been languishing for up to 15 years, acting as a disincentive for more investment in the industry. «Big companies wishing to invest are knocking on Greece’s door right now. Our goal is to make Greece a top destination for the world’s travelers.» Addressing the Attica Hoteliers Association (EXA) yesterday, Avramopoulos said there is a need for a metropolitan tourism organization, with the participation of local government and the private sector, along the lines of the Barcelona model. He noted that the Catalan city has seen its annual number of overnight stays rise from 4 million in the early 1990s to more than 10 million last year, mainly through a tripling of conference tourism. According to a study by JBR Hellas, presented yesterday, the number of overnight stays in Athens hotels fell from 8.9 million in 1980 to 3.9 million in 1993 and, according to the most optimistic scenario, it is projected to rise again to 8 million in 2015.