ECONOMY

Tourism operators see a bright opportunity for the next 20 years

Every governmental, state or other body involved with the tourism sector must reset its priorities, says the president of the Association of Greek Tourist Enterprises (SETE), Stavros Andreadis, in an interview with Kathimerini, so as to ensure the growth of the industry continues. The head of the tourism industry praises the effort made by the Tourism Development Ministry, which contributed to the impressive rise of foreign tourist arrivals this year, and stresses that Greek tourism now has the opportunity to achieve all it could not do in the last couple of decades. As the end of the tourism season approaches, how do you rate the government’s work in tourism? For the first time after many years we have the government interest confirmed at the highest possible level, with the prime minister regularly monitoring the sector’s issues himself. The establishment of the Tourism Development Ministry has helped the sector and this year’s figures vindicate this choice. The general conclusion from 2005 so far is positive. The rise in figures, even if the percentage is still in single digits, is encouraging for the future. This increase is down to a series of factors, headed by the successful staging of the Olympic Games and the organized advertising promotion of the country. It was gloriously proven, and this also vindicates many years of efforts by SETE, that advertising is a long-term investment, therefore it should take place with consistency and continuity. Crucially, the state has realized the significance of promotion, so I expect from now on it will not only increase funds according to revenues, but also improve constantly the promotion program through targeted marketing techniques. In this context the decisions for hiring a marketing consultant and the development of a branding system for Greek tourism are positive. Is this effort enough for the rise of tourism, or are other measures needed, too, to secure the future of the sector’s growth? Let us be realistic. The rise this year does not come from the improvement of our tourism services. We are offering this year what we did last year, with Athens being possibly the only exception. We have to pay attention to that as we cannot have a long-term and steady improvement of our tourism without a substantial shift in our product. SETE has for years suggested that Greece has a very attractive primary tourism product. It is the state’s and the entrepreneurs’ responsibility to add value and highlight it as the main competitive weapon of our economy. Today’s positive course creates responsibilities for everyone, calling for higher targets. In this direction we still have a lot to do. By making the most of the current momentum, let us set priorities and proceed to drastic changes to create a better tourism product. Responsibility shares must be distributed for everyone to do their bit for Greek tourism. This applies to all competent ministries and local authorities as well as everyone involved with tourism in the private sector. Could you give some examples of problems which must be resolved to improve the tourism product? We obviously need to supply more variety and quality. We have to sort out as soon as possible the town-planning issues still outstanding for any form of tourism installations and set a clear framework so that investors know clearly where they can invest and how. The study for the zoning plan of tourism activities and the forthcoming decision for the closure of old units will work positively toward this end. The state must at the same time approach the issue of investments with open horizons and modern views in favor of the public interest. Let us consider what we prefer: Leave precious state plots without utilization, at the mercy of anyone, without offering any revenues or new jobs, or have them developed as tourism properties in cooperation with the private sector? The state does not even need to sell off those plots. It can, as happens in many neighboring countries, proceed to long-term leasings, after the expiration of which the plots will return to the state. This measure would bring in large-scale and high-quality investments, which will generally upgrade tourism destinations while immediately creating new jobs in a country where de-investment in industry is unfortunately ever more rapid and the agricultural sector keeps shrinking. In the same context the state must move on to harmonize activities under a strategic plan from the Tourism Development Ministry, to coordinate regions, prefectures and local authorities. The role of the latter is particularly important, yet, unfortunately and despite several people’s efforts, local authorities are still full of weaknesses and lacking the knowledge and means, which leads to anti-touristic mentalities and behaviors. Are you satisfied with the level of tourism education offered in Greece today and the sensitivity of entrepreneurs in the sector to invest in human resources for the upgrade of services offered? We all recognize that our economy has now turned to services, for the quality of which we need well-trained staff. This is more significant in tourism, which may be one of the economy’s pillars but is still deprived of university education, which will not by itself solve the human resources quality problem, but will clearly contribute in the long term to tourism’s quality upgrade. The private sector must also embrace the significance of constant education and training and invest much more than today in human resources. The tourism education issue could also have another dimension, that of establishing our country as an education center for tourism for the broader Balkans and Mediterranean region, the Middle East and Asia. What should be done to render the Greek tourism product more competitive in the global market? True, Greek tourism’s growth problems are summarized in its reduced competitiveness. We do not just have to be better than last year. We also have to be better than our rival destinations this year. We have made this issue a priority in the public dialogue about tourism with the occasion of the fourth SETE conference «Tourism and Development» taking place in Athens next month. In this conference we will present the results of a survey about the competitiveness of Mediterranean tourism destinations, conducted in Greece, Spain, Turkey, Cyprus, Egypt and Croatia. The current debate on competitiveness should not be just theoretical but must apply directly and simply to everyone in the production process either as an employer or an employee: How competitive is what each one produces or offers compared with the payment? A hotel enterprise, for instance, will never be competitive if, apart from the entrepreneur, the maids, the waiters or the receptionist are not competitive in their services.