A cut in red tape is first step to bolstering tourism sector

Tourism Minister Fanni Palli-Petralia said yesterday the government will introduce a new law to slash bureaucracy in an effort to bring badly needed investment to the country’s tourism sector. Tourism is a major source of foreign exchange and tax revenues for the country, accounting for roughly 15 percent of gross domestic product and more than a sixth of total employment. But entrenched bureaucracy has stymied investment in the sector. New projects, such as hotels and resorts, can languish for up to 10 years before gaining all the necessary approvals. «The speeding up of investment approvals is a basic priority for us,» Palli-Petralia said in her first news conference since assuming the post in February. «We will bring the investment approval process in line with the European average of about 18 months,» she added. Palli-Petralia said the ministry would accept subsidy applications for the construction of five-star hotels throughout Greece, except in Athens and Thessaloniki, under the investment incentives law introduced last year. At the same time, in conjunction with the industry’s representative bodies, it is studying ways of tapping the European Union subsidized Fourth Community Support Framework (CSFIV) investment program. Immediate plans include the setting up of a reception bureau for investment plans at the ministry. A central call center in all basic languages will also be set up to provide visitors with all necessary information. The minister said a new law to cut red tape is now awaiting final endorsement from the Ministry of Finance and would be introduced in Parliament shortly. She did not give any specific timetable. Investment in Greek tourism remains hobbled by bureaucracy, highly seasonal demand and a relatively concentrated number of destinations. The government is trying to promote other forms of tourism, such as cruises, agritourism, conference tourism, visits to spas and Christian religious sites, yachting and golf. Satisfaction survey A JBR Hellas survey has found improved satisfaction among foreign visitors to Attica from last year. According to the study, commissioned by the Attica Hoteliers’ Association (EXA), about 85 percent of visitors surveyed said they would return or recommend the area to friend, against 75 percent last year. Satisfaction with Attica’s tourism services as a whole remained steady at 7.6 out of a high of 10, while Barcelona’s (widely perceived as a model destination) fell from 8.25 to 8.1. However, Athens hotels improved their standing from 8.1 to 8.5, surpassing those in the Catalan city. (Reuters, Kathimerini)