Gov’t confident with results of tourism policy initiatives

Karamanlis says sector ready for takeoff, free of Tourism entrepreneurship in Greece is enjoying its «springtime,» as more tourists are expected to arrive this year than ever, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis told the general meeting of the Association of Greek Tourist Enterprises (SETE). He also stressed the government’s efforts toward increasing tourism despite the major problems of the past. «Serious weaknesses in the growth process had undermined the competitiveness of the economy and created counter-incentives for the attraction of investments. The complex bureaucratic procedures, the limited use of new technologies and the non-existence of zoning plans for new forms of tourism were the main causes for the lack of growth in tourism,» said Karamanlis, adding that «Greece for many years compromised with utilizing just a slice of its tourism potential.» He said the government has taken several initiatives to diversify the tourism services offered, with emphasis being placed on investment in golf courses, marinas, exhibition centers and theme parks. So far, more than 800 tourism investment plans have been approved, according to the provisions of the investment incentives law – with a total budget of -2.5 billion, creating 5,500 new jobs. Furthermore, since March 2004 over 4,150 business plans have entered the Competitiveness program of subsidies, exceeding -460 million. Crucially, the absorption rate for funds for tourism has soared from 8 percent to 71 percent. The prime minister underscored that the biggest investments in tourism ever are now under way, while the new program for Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship for 2007-2013 has increased funds for tourism development to 17.5 percent from 10 percent during 2000-2006. The head of SETE, Stavros Andreadis, called for the prime minister’s intervention to combat various obstacles and mentalities that work against entrepreneurship in tourism. He also asked for a restructuring of competencies among ministries and the private sector, requesting the strengthening of the Tourism Development Ministry and the evolution of the Hellenic Chamber of Hotels into a tourism chamber. Zoning plan Environment, Physical Planning and Public Works (YPEHODE) Minister Giorgos Souflias estimated yesterday that the draft tourism zoning plan will be passed within three months. He was speaking during his visit to the Tourism Development Ministry, where he praised perfect cooperation with Minister Fanni Palli-Petralia in realizing the bill. Asked about tourism housing and the model promoted, Souflias emphasized the clauses which will avert the problems created in other countries due to uncontrolled growth, while Palli-Petralia stressed the particularly high interest from investors. The two ministers answered criticism about the lack of consultation on the bill by deciding to set up a committee that will review proposals by the Tourism Development Ministry, the Greek National Tourism Organization and all bodies concerned and submit them for consideration to YPEHODE. The Panhellenic Federation of Hoteliers (POX) greeted the first zoning plan for Greek tourism, but highlighted the need for the legalization of hotel units with outstanding town-planning issues. A great number of hotels operate in Greece today without licenses, or without one that covers all their installations.