ECONOMY

Riots hit a tourism sector that is already expecting falling demand

Last week’s riots have badly tainted Greece’s tourism industry, which is facing mounting challenges due to cash shortages and slumping international demand, the head of a tourism group said yesterday. The resilience of growth rates in the tourism sector – which accounts for about 20 percent of the national economy – is seen as crucial to Greece’s economic performance during the global crisis. Nikos Angelopoulos, president of the Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises (SETE), said the riots in Athens and other cities have reversed the positive image brought about by the successful staging of the 2004 Olympic Games. «Athens has a large problem. There is no incentive to visit the city,» he said. Industry sources have presented mixed views on the impact the unrest will have on visitors, with some describing the negative fallout as being only short-term. The number of tourists visiting Greece in 2008 remained roughly at last year’s levels, with travelers from Romania and Bulgaria helping to offset a drop in other markets. However, forecasts for next year «are cloudy» with tourists expected to be a lot more price sensitive next year, according to Angelopoulos. The SETE president also pointed to difficulties brought about by banks that have stopped lending to the sector despite claims to the contrary. «The attitude of (privately owned) banks is unacceptable, perhaps even catastrophic,» he said. According to press reports, the government is looking into backing loans of up to 350,000 euros toward working capital for tourism operations.