Potential for off-peak-season tourism still untapped in Greece

Greece remains overwhelmingly a tourism destination just in the summer, despite hard efforts to promote a host of other possibilities that would maintain the industry even in the winter months. Although business has picked up during the November-March period in recent years, it is still at very low levels, whether internal tourism or arrivals from abroad. According to the National Statistics Service, of the 17 million foreign tourists who came last year, only 2.5 million arrived in the five months of winter. The picture is rather better as regards internal tourism, with considerable improvement in the last three years. According to data from the Institute of Tourism Research and Forecasting (ITEP), demand for winter tourism services does not originate in the middle-income strata. ITEP says the potential categories of winter tourists are pensioners, weekenders and generally short-trip takers, as well as those making business trips. The first group seems to be the most promising, as they have ample time to travel any time of the year. The policy measures for improving the seasonal profile of foreign tourism in Greece, particularly in winter, should target these groups and their requirements. They should obviously include infrastructure and other organizational improvements in the large cities that would facilitate access to the prominent sites of Greek culture. They should also take into account student holiday periods. Tourism Minister Aris Spiliotopoulos aired some ideas for promoting the tourism industry beyond the peak summer months at the International World Travel Market show in London early this week. He announced that Greece’s tourism promotion program would include nine thematic units, which, besides summer holidays and yachting, would target the themes of culture, countryside tourism, touring, health and recreation, conferences, luxury and city tourism. For maximum effect, infrastructure facilities require improvements. ITEP notes the need for golf courses, conference centers and programs that will attract people to cultural, religious and outdoor activities (such as trekking, hiking, mountain biking, horse riding, hunting and bird watching). It also recommends the promotion of winter sports and international sports events. As regards winter sports, an important adverse factor in Greece’s potential for bolstering its tourism industry in the winter is the country’s distance from the main market sources in relation to competitors. For this reason, ITEP considers attracting low-cost airlines essential.