Early tourist numbers weak

The number of tourists entering Greece on chartered flights dipped marginally in the first four months of the year, an indication that the sector may remain at last year’s levels. Greece is having to compete for visitors with a growing number of cheaper competitors but has also started to draw an increasing influx of travelers from its Balkan neighbors. Figures from the Civil Aviation Authority show that the number of tourists entering Greece between January and April fell to 238,964 from 247,336 in the same period one year earlier. Additionally, data from Athens hotels show that occupancy rates in April and May were at levels lower than last year. Industry sources said this raises concerns about the amount of time tourists are spending in the country. Last year, despite a 6 percent increase in tourist arrivals, money spent by visitors grew by only 3 percent. A lack of online tourism services and a delay in low-cost airlines flying to Greece are considered to be key reasons stunting the growth of tourism receipts. Industry sources said the dip in visitor numbers so far this year could mean that the vital Greek tourism sector, which accounts for about 20 percent of the economy, in 2008 could be headed for low – if any – growth, after expanding continuously in the aftermath of the Athens 2004 Olympic Games. According to government estimates, annual growth rates between 2004 and 2006 reached an average of 6 percent. Greece is also becoming a more expensive destination, as it wrestles with one of the eurozone’s highest inflation rates. Industry sources, however, point to the new pool of tourists reaching the country’s shores. A growing number of visitors from Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia are reaching Greece along with more Russians. Last year, some 235,000 Russians visited Greece, while their favorite destination remains Turkey, with around 2 million Russians visiting Greece’s neighbor last year, according to data from the Russian tourism organization.