Tourism industry upbeat

Greece expects a 5 percent rise in 2006 tourist arrivals, thanks to an aggressive advertising campaign and its image as a safe haven from international terrorism, industry officials said yesterday. With its whitewashed villages and sunny Aegean Islands, Greece is one of the world’s 20 top holiday destinations, with tourism accounting for roughly one-sixth of gross domestic product and nearly one in every five jobs. It is also a vital revenue source for the government, which is struggling to bring this year’s budget deficit to below the 3.0 percent of GDP limit set by the EU or face sanctions. «We expect an increase of up to 5 percent, the same as last year,» said George Drakopoulos, president of the Association of Tourist Enterprises. Although Greece has in the past had its own problems with guerrillas, its tourism got an unexpected boost last year after terrorist attacks in London and Egypt sent many travelers to its shores, impressed by the peaceful staging of the Olympic Games, industry representatives said. «The successful Olympics and a good promotional campaign will mean a rise this year. Tourists have got the message that Greece is a safe country,» said Stelios Polykratis, head of the SEEDDE association of rented room and apartment owners. Industry officials estimate that in 2005, tourist arrivals rose by 5 percent to around 13 million but no official figures have been released. The Greek government is planning to continue with an aggressive advertising campaign, blanketing 42 different countries worldwide, including many in Asia for the first time. This year, the budget for tourism advertising is expected to rise a further 27 percent to 38 million euros, up from 30 million last year which itself was a more than threefold increase from 2004 levels, government officials said. Particularly strong demand is seen as coming from Germany, Greece’s second most important market after the UK. Industry officials say advance bookings by German tour operators point to an above-average 12 percent growth this year. Also important will be several major events held in Athens in 2006, such as this May’s Eurovision song contest and an upcoming UN-sponsored summit on information technology. «Our forecast for 2006 is for an increase in high-end and conference tourism. We are also expecting above average arrivals from places like Germany and the Netherlands,» said Yiannis Evangelou, head of the Greek Association of Travel and Tourist Agencies.