Saronic island visitor numbers dip

The number of travelers heading to the Aegean islands from Piraeus in the second quarter of the year rose marginally but passenger traffic to closer destinations in the Saronic Gulf dropped, according to industry figures. Travelers heading to Aegean islands between May and July rose to 2.353 million in comparison with 2.323 million in the same period last year. However, fewer headed to the Saronic islands, which include Aegina and Hydra. Data showed that 956,902 travelers left Piraeus, the country’s largest port, for the Saronic Gulf, down from 1.123 million last year, which marks a drop of 14.82 percent. The country’s ferry sector covers 356 routes, of which 242 are deregulated and a further 84 are partly subsidized by the government. The Merchant Marine Ministry is believed to spend more than 50 million euros annually to subsidize the 84 routes generally considered to be unprofitable. Industry sources said the busiest time of year for the industry is August, when it does 20 percent of its annual business. Tourist arrivals in the first six months of the year – via the country’s main airports – rose 3 percent year-on-year, despite forecasts by many of an annual drop in 2008 numbers. The global economic slowdown and appreciating euro is seen as keeping a lid on the growth of tourist numbers this year.