Bumper year for tourism?

Greek hoteliers said yesterday that foreign tourist arrivals this year could jump by 10 percent or more, signaling an excellent year for the country’s tourism and a major boost for the economy. Each year, Greece hosts more than 14 million foreign tourists, who flock to its whitewashed villages and Aegean islands. Tourism accounts for an estimated 18 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) and roughly one in five jobs. In the last two years, Greece has seen strong growth in tourist arrivals, its image lifted by the successful staging of the 2004 Olympic Games and from the perception that it is a destination relatively safe from international terrorism. «The current tourist season appears to be developing very well,» said Gerasimos Fokas, president of the state-chartered Hoteliers’ Chamber. «We forecast that foreign tourist arrivals will rise by double-digit rates compared with last year. And the statistics we have seen to date support this forecast.» Earlier this month, the private sector Association of Greek Tourist Enterprises (SETE) said tourist arrivals in the first six months of the year were up 6.33 percent. According to SETE, the increase has outpaced the overall growth in tourism worldwide, as well as in rival Mediterranean countries such as Spain, Turkey and Croatia. Government statistics show that the number of overnight stays by foreign visitors – a proxy for tourist arrivals – grew by 5.16 percent last year. More tourists, less spending Despite an increase in the number of tourists arriving, Fokas warned that spending is not growing as quickly and may even be flat compared with the previous year. «Foreign tourist spending is lagging, not growing at as fast a rate as would be expected from the data on tourist arrivals,» Fokas said. He blamed a shift in the industry toward a new type of package tourism – so-called «all-inclusive» packages – in which visitors pay for their complete room and board in advance and, as a result, spend less on services outside their hotels. «We have heard complaints from other tourism businesses that they are losing money because guests stay inside their hotels more and more,» said Fokas. «And that, in fact, is true.» He said growth in all-inclusive packages had been rapid. Five years ago, only a handful of hotels offered such deals. But this year, half of Greece’s 600 largest hotels – those with more than 200 rooms – have booked such packages. (Reuters)