Hoteliers call for overhauling tourism industry’s framework

Makis Kalligeros, general secretary of the Panhellenic Federation of Hoteliers (POX), wants to sound a warning bell for this year’s tourist season, and insists that institutional and other issues that have lain unsolved for years are undermining the future of Greek tourism. «The unwieldiness of Greek tourism is largely the result of the administrative framework for the sector,» he said in an interview. As the administrative model for the industry has proved wanting, the country needs a strong public agency – possibly the re-establishment of the Ministry of Tourism – with enhanced and clear-cut powers, according to Kalligeros. He believes that tourism policy should be directed along two axes, on the basis of a strategy and specific targets. The framework should include a specific timetable for working to penetrate new markets such as China, and to tap existing ones more effectively. Kalligeros welcomes the ongoing revision of the ineffective investment incentives law and the government’s intention to include a special chapter for tourism. He insists that priority should be given to tax breaks and employment support measures. The alleged problems relating to the hospitality program for the 2004 Olympic Games were grossly exaggerated by certain circles, which aimed at obtaining town-planning and various economic incentives, says Kalligeros. He confirms the unfavorable forecasts for this year’s season, which project an average 15-percent fall in bookings, depending on hotel and area. «While private enterprise continues investing, public infrastructure, such as roads, ports and regional airports, lags behind and this damages the country’s tourist image,» he notes, citing the example of Athens hotels, which are implementing investment programs of more than 500 million euros in view of the Olympic Games. The industry, particularly in Athens, is still suffering from the shock of the September 11 attacks in the US, as first-quarter data show a fall of about 10 percent from last year. Fewer conferences, cuts in cruise trips, and a reduced number of visitors from Japan and Latin America all help form the negative picture for Athenian tourism so far this year. But even more serious is the issue of hotel revenues, which have been falling in real terms. According to Kalligeros, the real prices most Greek hoteliers will have received at the end of 2002 will be the average for the 1995-2001 period. This is largely the result of discounts and special offers, spurred by the pricing policies of foreign tour operators. Nevertheless, the result is still below expectations. Kalligeros is also disappointed by the way Greek tourism is advertised abroad. He says it is untimely, piecemeal and, ultimately, ineffective and must give way to aggressive, specialized communication programs in foreign markets, funded by a steady cash flow and with a view ahead of at least four years. «The market wonders what the fund’s strategy will be,» said Gonca Yagci, head of international sales in Koc Investment.