ECONOMY

Room for all in 2004

Greek hoteliers are close to fulfilling their promise to the Athens 2004 Organizing Committee that there will be sufficient accommodation for Olympic officials, as they proceed full steam ahead with the renovation of old hotels and the construction of new ones at their own expense, despite the absence of government incentives, the Athens Hotel Association (AHA) said yesterday. «We have covered close to 90 percent of the contracted hotel capacity for the 2004 Olympic Games, two and a half years ahead of the deadline,» AHA President Spyros Divanis stressed. He said hotels currently under construction will provide 2,000 rooms in time for the Olympic Games, while another 3,000 to 4,000 rooms still to be constructed should also be and ready by then. A total of 175 hotels, so far, have contracted their rooms to the committee. Hoteliers and Athens 2004 signed a memorandum of understanding last June under which the former agreed to persuade more hotels to allocate part of their capacity to the Olympic family, estimated to require 23,000 rooms. Hotels which had already contracted 80 percent of their rooms, agreed to increase the percentage to 90 percent, ensuring an additional 1,500 rooms. While hoteliers have said that there is more than sufficient accommodation for Olympic officials, Athens 2004 thought differently. International Olympics Committee Coordination Commission President Dennis Oswald, in a visit to Athens last month, said the shortage of accommodation presents «the biggest concern.» Hoteliers, however, feel such comments are uncalled for. «We don’t appreciate being given red and yellow cards, since we have done so much,» Divanis said, noting that greater coordination between the various parties and greater efforts on everybody’s part would help resolve the accommodation issue. The AHA head said part of the problem could be traced to Athens 2004’s reluctance to sign on to category B and C hotels, which have an estimated 10,000 rooms on offer, and its insistence that hotels contract at least 80 percent of their capacity to the Olympic family. The committee’s demand that new hotels be built near stadiums presents another dilemma. Divanis also warned of the possibility of a surfeit of rooms after the Olympic Games end. «Nine hotels have closed down in Sydney since the Olympic Games ended, while others have reported low occupancy rates,» he said. Unlike in Athens, however, hotels in Australia are allowed to be converted into hospitals or even housing. Divanis also defended hotel room charges, saying that rates approved by the Hellenic Chamber of Commerce for the different categories of accommodation differ little from the rates in Sydney two years ago. A five-star hotel in Sydney cost 421 euros in 2000, while the chamber has set a 490-euro cap on deluxe hotels in Athens. The AHA slammed the government for not doing its part to help the hotel industry deal with the current crisis and meet the demands of the Olympic Games. Government inertia can be seen in the lack of progress regarding infrastructure projects, advertising of the 2004 Athens Games and the construction of a conference center in Athens, among others. Divanis said slightly more than half of the hoteliers who have contracted with Athens 2004 have already invested a total of 171 billion drachmas in upgrading their hotels, of which only 2.2 percent have been offset by government subsidies.