Tourism to rise more next year after a bumper 2005

Greek tourism is expected to record a back-to-back rise in 2006 following this year’s bumper season, which saw a 10 percent increase after years of decline, industry officials said yesterday. Following a number of disappointing seasons, even in 2004 when Athens hosted the Olympics, officials say early signs point to yet another rise in tourist arrivals – which makes up about one-fifth of the Greek economy – that would help ease fiscal woes. With the government scrambling to cut the budget shortfall below the European Union’s 3 percent cap next year via tighter spending, tourism will help maintain the economy’s robust growth and the current account deficit from further widening. Tourism receipts are set to rise thanks to a bigger ad campaign, improved services and the successful Olympic Games. «I believe we will have another positive year following 2005, which was the biggest increase in tourism in the past six years,» Yiannis Evangelou, chairman of the Greek Association of Travel and Tourist Agencies, told Reuters. With about 14 million visitors at its islands and newly built conference centers in 2005, officials estimate the number to exceed 15 million next year – which would mean another 7 percent rise. «The biggest rise for the coming year will be again for higher-category accommodation and higher-quality products such as conferences, cruises, real estate travel,» Evangelou said. Greece also increased its 2005 advertising budget tenfold to over 40 million euros in a bid to capitalize on the exposure the country got during the Games. Tourism Ministry officials said next year’s budget would be hiked by 50 percent to about 60 million euros to boost an industry that employs 800,000 people in a country of 11 million, making up 18 percent of GDP. Greek hoteliers were also upbeat the rebound in arrivals in 2005 will be equally strong next year. «Although it is still early and barring some extraordinary development, the signs are it could even be a slightly better year than 2005,» said Spyros Divanis, the Hoteliers’ Federation vice president. Divanis said finalizing arrangements for the commercial exploitation of dozens of Olympic sports venues scattered across the capital would make Athens even more attractive. «The use of the Olympic installations following the recent tenders will create another very positive activity in the tourism sector… and especially for conferences,» Divanis said. (Reuters)

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