ECONOMY

Pressure for golf law

A group of foreign real estate developers will push the Greek government to revamp a golf course development law to help the country cash in on a lucrative market and shed its budget-tourism image. «We have joined together to push for one common law so that we know the rules of the market,» said Clemente Pinedo, president of the newly formed Association of Foreign Investors in Tourism. «Because right now there are no rules.» Greece has just six golf courses, compared to Spain’s 300, and is losing out on a market that could create year-round jobs and lure well-heeled tourists, Pinedo said. It could further boost a sector that already accounts for about 18 percent of gross domestic product and one in five jobs in Greece. But so far, foreign investors have shunned the country’s tourism sector because of its notorious bureaucracy and conflicting laws. The eight real estate developers, who include investors from Australia, Belgium, Switzerland and the UK, are eyeing investments of about 3.5 billion euros and want the Greek government to implement the long-delayed golf course development bill. Since coming to office in 2004, the pro-business government has urged a tourism policy that would shed Greece’s image as a backpackers’ haven and instead attract wealthier tourists with golf, yachting and spa resorts. A centerpiece of that policy has been the golf investment law, originally drafted by the previous, Socialist government, that would sweep away bureaucratic obstacles. In Spain, which has 15 to 20 new projects a year, approval for a golf course typically takes 18 months. In Greece, approval takes as long as 10 years. The problem is not developing a golf course, but rather the associated hotel and residential developments necessary to make a golf course development viable, says Pinedo. «Golf courses are not profitable in general, they have to be associated with real estate development,» he said. «Right now the law exists in order to build a golf course, and there are laws that allow real estate development. But there is no single law that covers both golf course development and the associated real estate development.» Developers also face a strong anti-golf lobby that sees the game as elitist and damaging to the environment. Water consumption is a big concern in the dry, Mediterranean country. A recent report by environmental group WWF says that an 18-hole golf course consumes as much water in a year as a town of 11,000 people. But Pinedo says that new technology means golf greens can be watered with seawater, desalinated water or recycled water, either from nearby towns or the development itself. «There are many things you can do to protect the environment,» Pinedo said. «One good thing about being late to the game is that you can learn from other places and do things right from the beginning.»