Investments in golf could improve Athens tourism

Large and diverse tourism investments, such as golf courses within 30 kilometers of Athens, could make the capital more attractive to high-income visitors throughout the year, says the vice president of the Association of Greek Tourist Enterprises (SETE), Theodoros Vassilakis. In an interview, he said there is strong interest from investors and the government, but a series of issues must be regulated before major business plans can be realized. Vassilakis says sites have already been located near Athens for the creation of at least six golf courses, which will be built in tandem with vacation homes and other supplementary tourism infrastructure. Funds of more than 60 million euros could be allocated for those business plans, he says. Following the patterns of similar models already in place abroad, the development of holiday houses will not exceed 15 percent of the total area. The sole obstacle to realizing such complex investments in Greece is the lack of special zoning plans and the legal framework in line with that across Europe. In Portugal and Spain, at least half a million German golf fans have purchased holiday homes in recent years, bolstering tourism in these countries throughout the year. The promotion of Athens as the organizer of the successful 2004 Olympic Games – combined with the modernization of hotels and the other investments under way, such as the creation of a conference center – are the best conditions for the attraction of quality tourism to the capital. Vassilakis says the organizers of major international conferences include the proximity to golf courses in their criteria for selecting locations. He says that modern golf installations with state-of-the-art technological systems protect the broader region’s environment. As an example, he cites the benefits from the operation of golf courses on Crete. In addition, golf as a product has been incorporated in Crete’s promotion program to attract quality visitors to the island. In Greece there currently are only five 18-hole golf courses, located in Glyfada, Rhodes, Corfu, Halkidiki and Crete, which also has a nine-hole course. But unlike golf courses in Paphos, Cyprus and Belek, Turkey, the courses are far apart from each other. Although land investments in Greece change continuously and the legislation is adjusted accordingly, the development of golf courses is not taken seriously by investors in this country. Yet there are independent investors from Switzerland, Cyprus, Belgium, the United States, Spain, the United Kingdom and even China who have shown real interest in high-standard hotels in resorts and golf courses throughout the Mediterranean. In Turkey, Cyprus and Bulgaria, golf resorts are already in place. Vassilakis says Greece, too, must immediately get on the golf resort map, while investing interest remains heavy.