Tourism crisis unit set up; cancellations at 20,000

With Greece’s image as a tourist destination hurt by the recent street protests – which cost the lives of three people – the Greek government said yesterday it will set up a crisis unit for the vital sector. «Following mass cancellations of reservations, a crisis committee led by the Greek National Tourism Organization has been set up,» government spokesman Giorgos Petalotis told reporters. He estimated the cost of the crisis on tourism in the «tens of millions of euros.» The setback indicates the persistent challenges for Greece’s battered economy, despite a 110-billion-euro international rescue program that staved off bankruptcy. A painful austerity program adopted to secure the aid is expected to keep the economy in recession until 2012, while unemployment has hit new records. Greece has little heavy industry and a large trade deficit. But tourism accounts for an estimated 17 percent of annual economic output and one in five jobs, and a significant drop could cost more jobs and slow the country’s transit out of recession. At a time when the debt-hit country needs visitors more than ever, Greece has been in the media spotlight for recurring anti-austerity protests, which have often been violent. «The incidents that have stigmatized Greece internationally were decisive in creating a climate of uncertainty and fear for visitors who had made bookings and who now no longer want to come to Greece, for obvious reasons,» Petalotis said. The Athens-Attica Hotel Association said yesterday 68 of its members in the broader Athens region had reported nearly 20,000 nights of cancellations since May 5.

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