ECONOMY

Big drop in tourist visits for 2002

Tourist arrivals in the first four months of the year showed a major drop, in a warning sign that the overall year could stagnate at last year’s level, the Research Institute for Tourism (ITEP) warned yesterday. ITEP’s president, Maria Daskalantonaki, said the ominous signs were evident in the general decline in incoming air travelers. She said the airports at Rhodes and Iraklion, Crete reported respective falls of 15.5 percent and 18.5 percent in incoming foreign traffic in the first four months of the year. Popular tourist destinations such as Kos and Corfu fared even worse, as their airports said inbound foreign tourists were down by 41 percent and 35 percent respectively. The island of Milos saw a huge, 158-percent drop in incoming air travelers from abroad. The decline is all the more worrying as 85 percent of travel to Greece from abroad is done via air. Daskalantonaki said the tourist decline underscores Greece’s failure to exploit a monthlong difference this year between the Catholic and the Orthodox Easters. In general, the State’s inability to promote the country and to make more effective use of tour operators mean the local tourist industry is in danger of remaining at last year’s level, she said. «In the last few years, tourist arrival growth has been minimal,» she said. ITEP statistics showed the average tourist growth rate in Greece in the last decade amounted to just 3.2 percent, the lowest among a group of competing countries which includes Spain, Turkey, Bulgaria and Slovenia. Daskalantonaki said greater attention from the State toward the sector could boost tourist arrivals by an estimated 5 percent. This could take the form of lower state and municipal taxes and additional development incentives. Tourist enterprises not listed on the stock exchange are taxed 40 percent of their profits while the VAT on rooms is 8 percent, higher than Spain and Portugal. She also called on hoteliers not to give in to pressure from tour operators for discounts, especially as they finalize deals at the end of the month for the winter season, because they would suffer the consequences in later years. It was better for them to upgrade their services. Daskalantonaki applauded the government’s move to target new markets such as China, Cyprus and the Middle East. Citing the example of Russia, she said speedier and easier visa procedures could attract more Russians to Greece.