Hopes for more tourism funds, as pessimism about next year abates

Tourism is set to receive increased funding from the state budget next year, as pessimism about tourist arrivals in 2009 now appears to be dissipating. Speaking yesterday at the Philoxenia tourism exhibition in Thessaloniki, Tourism Development Minister Aris Spiliotopoulos said that he feels «moderately optimistic» about an increase in funds for tourism next year and expressed certainty that Greece will perform well in the sector also in 2009, despite the economic crisis. «We are the only eurozone country that has already landed on its feet,» he said, while conceding that 2009 will certainly be a difficult year. To raise its shield higher against the impacts of the international financial crisis, the ministry will employ what Spiliotopoulos dubbed «defensive marketing» in traditional markets for Greek tourism, such as Britain, Germany and the US, and an «aggressive» approach in emerging markets such as the countries of Eastern Europe and Latin America along with China, India and South Africa. Figures so far show that the crisis has not affected Greek tourism in the way it has hit other countries. Data from the Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises (SETE) for the first eight months of 2008 show that arrivals at airports were on a par with the record year of 2007, while September saw a slight decline of 1.8 percent. In the same month Spain saw a drop of 6 percent, Turkey had a similar loss, and the Canary Islands registered a 9 percent reduction. At the same time Greece recorded 10 percent growth in cruise arrivals and in yachting tourism, while road tourism grew by 30 percent on the basis of arrivals at the country’s borders, which amounts to 1.5 million people. Spiliotopoulos forecast a similar rise in arrivals by road next year, too. The ministry is also trying to attract tourists with higher income, instead of simply trying to increase their numbers. This objective has already been attained this year, as tourism receipts grew by 6 percent in the January-August period, Spiliotopoulos said, against 3 percent in the same period last year. Athanasios Economou, president of the Greek National Tourism Organization (GNTO), played down fears that preliminary signs for next year are negative. «Visitors from European countries will opt to cut their daily spending instead of depriving themselves of their vacations. What worries us is not the number of foreign tourism arrivals but the duration of their vacations in Greece. Some may shorten their stay due to the economic crisis,» said Economou. «Major tour operators recently assured us that they will not reduce their charter flights for next summer.» He added that tourism in northern Greece is fortunate to be relying on countries that – on account of the structure of their economy – have not yet been affected by the crisis, such as Russia, Bulgaria and Romania. «Over 1 million Russian tourists may come to Greece in two or three years provided the visa problem is solved and more infrastructure is in place for more demanding visitors,» predicted Zacharias Kaplanidis, a member of the Greek-Russian Chamber of Commerce. Arrivals from Russia are expected to rise by 30 percent annually and reach up to 330,000.