ECONOMY

Mixed signals over tourist arrivals as bookings look on the downside

It remains unclear how many tourist arrivals there will be this year as bookings from traditional markets continue to be restrained following the September 11 events. This is one reason why some hoteliers have reported a drop of up to 20 percent in bookings from principal markets such as Germany. The size of the decline cannot be compared with the previous year. Last year, German bookings made up some 40 percent of bookings in Greece while this year, they have fallen to just 25 percent. However, the global tourist industry is expected to engage in last-minute bookings, which in the last three years have become very popular. Under the old system whereby tour operators booked in advance, it was possible to have an idea of the number of tourist arrivals by April at the latest. With the new trend in tourist bookings, it is very difficult to make forecasts about incoming tourists and their destinations at this stage now. Thus, predictions on a specific period can often be misleading and lead to the wrong conclusions. Deputy Development Minister Dimitris Georgakopoulos and the secretary-general of tourism, Dimitris Georgarakis, last week visited the Fitur tourist exhibition in Spain where the topic for discussion were the fluctuations in the tourist industry. The deputy minister met with his Spanish counterpart, Juan Costa Climent, and discussed the idea of pan-European measures in connection with the tourism industry. They also debated various initiatives which could be implemented during the current period. The measures are set to focus on two areas, one being the promotion of Europe as a single destination and the other concerning tourism ministers and their participation in parliamentary discussions on related issues. Other topics discussed between Georgakopoulos and Climent included measures involving the tourist industry and culture, the formation of a code of conduct for tourist bodies and hotels, the creation of a reinsurance fund for bankrupt tourist companies, the introduction of a satellite account for the tourist sector and the formation of an operational code for marinas. The Greek deputy minister is due to announce the results of his meeting this week. Georgakapoulos also met with Enzo Furnari, the president of the federation of tourist agents in Latin America, and discussed the possibility of including Greece in package tours organized by the region’s tour operators. The Latin American market is very enticing as it encompasses 17 countries with a total population of 400 million. The Greek deputy minister also held talks with representatives from Iberojet, one of the biggest tour operators in Spain, who said they would be launching new Greek destinations such as Myconos and Santorini in the Spanish market. Spanish tourist arrivals to Greece this year are expected to remain at last year’s level of 120,000. Last year, the majority of Spaniards traveled to Athens, Crete, Myconos, Santorini and Corfu. They also preferred cruises. Spain’s reaction to the decline in tourist arrivals could hardly be more different than Greece’s. While the latest data showed a 30-percent drop in bookings for Spain – against tourist arrivals of close to 50 million in 2001 – Spanish hoteliers are not concerned as they believe the situation will improve in the coming months. Their only problem seems to the hike in the costs of a package tour to the Balearic Islands due to the recent imposition of an environmental surcharge. The Spaniards have at the same time developed strong defense mechanisms against unfavorable developments such as terrorist attacks, a jump in the crime rate and other negative factors which could affect their image abroad. Greece, however, has not done anything which could counter negative foreign press reports. One issue that is still open for discussion is the State’s debts to the Social Security Foundation (IKA) and the Social Security Fund for the Self-Employed (OAEE) and when it will make its first payments, thus enabling the two bodies to be able to come up with the monies to acquire mutual funds for the new company. The social security funds are currently reviewing the procedures relating to the hiring of an investment advisor for the proposed mutual fund company. Trade union umbrella body GSEE has already agreed to a number of compromises in connection with social security reforms. It has dropped its demand for increased government funding and is now open to discussion on the actual amount that could support the system.