Airports need an upgrade

The growth of Greek tourism depends inevitably on air transport, since 80 percent of incoming tourists arrive by plane. According to the Association of Greek Tourist Enterprises (SETE), the Ministry of Transport must take a series of measures to boost tourism by improving services to both foreign visitors and Greek travelers. A report on tourism and travel competitiveness by the World Economic Forum places Greece in 24th place among the 124 countries studied. However, it places Greece in 37th place when it comes to air travel infrastructure and in 50th place regarding bilateral and international air travel agreements. SETE believes two kinds of action, one short-term, the other medium- to long-term, must be implemented regarding air transport policy. First, some measures must be urgently taken – before the start of this year’s summer season – to improve the operations as well as the appearance of our most important international airports. Second, and most important, regional airports must be expanded and made more attractive for foreign airlines to fly into by offering a variety of high-quality and inexpensive ground services as well as competitive landing fees. Airport development SETE believes the design and development of regional airports must be implemented in conjunction with the special tourism land-planning project, now under preparation, which will help identify those areas with the biggest tourism development potential and thus channel priority moves accordingly. By the time the project is completed, according to SETE, the Transport Ministry must already have undertaken airport development projects in the western Peloponnese – where tourism is already growing fast – and on Crete, whose airports have almost reached their capacity saturation points. There is a project to build an airport in the Cretan city of Castelli, west of Hania, but, even by the ministry’s usually optimistic timetables, this will take eight to 10 years to complete. In the meantime, expanding the capacity of the Iraklion airport is urgently needed. Otherwise, Crete’s competitiveness as a tourist destination will be undermined and, consequently, several ambitious projects may be canceled. Attracting more foreign airlines to Greek airports must be a constant goal, according to SETE, which believes that the protectionist policies of the past 50 years – of favoring Olympic Airways – have done much harm, as they have entirely eliminated Greece as a potential destination for many carriers. Adding to that Olympic’s continued financial woes and the shrinking of its operations, entire regions are out of bounds for the «national airline» (Australia, Canada, China, Japan and North Africa). According to SETE, continued delay in dealing with Olympic, either by selling or dismantling it, is a blemish on the government’s supposed reformist image and encouragement to entrenched interests to hold policy hostage to organized minorities. SETE is in favor of the immediate provision of air freedom to airlines wishing to fly to, or through, Greek airports. For example, China Airways does not feel an offer to fly the Shanghai-Athens route is financially viable as there is not enough demand. If, however, it is also allowed to fly the Athens-London route, then a Shanghai-Athens-London flight would be highly likely. Besides helping to increase the number of Chinese tourists to Greece, it would also increase competition on the Athens-London segment, thus benefiting the Greek consumer. Ground handling services SETE opposes the Transport Ministry’s decision to retain Olympic Airways’ ground-handling services monopoly at most Greek airports (with the exception of Athens, Thessaloniki, Iraklion, Rhodes and Corfu) because it considers it contrary to the principles of market competition and harmful to the competitiveness of the tourism sector. SETE considers that the continuing state protection of Olympic keeps ground-handling prices high. At the aforementioned five airports, where more than one ground-handling companies operate, prices are 25-30 percent lower than at other Greek airports and the quality of services is higher. Given the heavy price competition among tour operators, any increase in the cost of travel packages favors Greece’s competitors. Thus, SETE says, the damage is felt throughout the economy, both in reduced revenues and lost jobs. The solution, according to SETE, is to allow at least one other ground-handling company to work the Kos, Hania, Zakynthos and Santorini airports, which handle a large number of the tourist flights in the summer season.

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