Tourism firms still waiting for a helping hand from the State

Tourist vessel and yacht owners and their national association (EPEST) are not at all happy with the government’s measures to help them withstand the adverse effects on the industry of the September 11 attacks last year. In an interview, EPEST Chairman Lakis Venetopoulos lays out his criticism of inadequate attention from the Development Ministry to the problem and expresses his concern for 2003. One year after September 11, all the negative forecasts by the representatives of the industry, including yourself, on tourism in general and sea tourism in particular have been confirmed. Have any of your proposals for ameliorating the impact been adopted? After the terrorist attacks in the USA, the then minister of development set up a crisis management committee which included representatives of the National Tourism Organization (GNTO) and the heads of the various professional associations in the tourism industry. After working hard, the committee a month later produced proposals for boosting supply and demand and sent them on for consideration. The ministry decided to split the proposals into two categories. On the supply side, it said it would await a comprehensive study on the effects – expected to be ready by mid-December. As regards demand, particularly from the USA, it accepted and approved the committee’s recommendations. A year later, the reality is tragic: Most proposals remained on paper. What do your mean by tragic? The assignment of a study on the effects of the crisis to a specialist firm, which was expected to report in December 2001, was delayed until March of this year. This is what the minister announced during the sole session of the National Tourism Council this year. After a long period of silence, we received the relevant questionnaires in June for the completion of the study. In our previous experiences, at the times of the wars in the Gulf and Kosovo and after endless efforts to collect data, absolutely no measures for helping tourism enterprises were adopted. We now think we are again on a course of deception and most of our members have justifiably refused to answer. This was not a questionnaire; it was an autopsy. Up to this day, we do not know whether this study was completed. No representative of the tourism industry has received any report, at any rate, and no measure has been adopted. What was done about promotion in the USA? In relation to the measures approved in November 2001, the picture today is as follows: Initially, it was decided to spend $4 million on a joint advertising program with American tour operators. Disbursement of $1.9 million was approved for this program only in July. At present, the agencies whose proposals were supposed to have been approved have not even been notified of the decision. But given the conditions required for disbursement, I do not believe that even part of this sum will be absorbed. This is because disbursement will only be possible after the advertisments are ready, projected for the end of February 2003, and after GNTO has approved the creative part for every individual advertising proposal. As regards the three-year, $300,000 training program for staff of American travel agencies on Greek tourism through the Internet, this has not started and is certain not to start either in the future. The ministry also approved planning for a series of events in the USA, where state and private officials from the tourism industry would be present. To date, there have been two trips to the USA, one by Development Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos, who was not officially accompanied by any private industry representative, and one by the GNTO chairman, on the first anniversary of September 11. Neither of the two journeys corresponded to the spirit of the initially planned trip. The result of such sloppiness, of which there have been repeated examples, is that our counterparts in America take a very low and dismissive view of our organizational abilities. But to be fair, GNTO and the Development Ministry assumed part of the cost of the first international sea tourism conference which our association organized in Athens in May, which was very successful. On the whole, I consider that we, too, bear part of the responsibility for our acquiesence to this particular form of tourism policy and for the overall state of our representation. What have other competitor countries done to support their tourism and what effects have their measures had? Most of our competitor countries have already launched advertising programs of all sizes in the USA. Anyone who watched the World Basketball Championships there last month must have been impressed by all the billboards around the courts advertising Turkey as a destination for tourism and investment. The same country is advertised before all peak television newscasts, and in all papers and magazines. Most countries, including China and Vietnam, have their advertising programs but we do not. Bleak picture for sea holiday businesses Venetopoulos also paints a bleak picture of arrivals and revenues in 2002. «The fall in US arrivals is expected to exceed 40 percent. If you deduct from the expected arrivals over the rest of the year those of Greek Americans and others on professional trips, the purely tourist arrivals will be around 65 percent of the 2001 level. As regards the upmarket manned yachts, the situation could be described as dramatic: Bookings are down 50 percent from last year, while many vessels were not even deployed, as they would not have been able to cover their operating costs. On the whole, we estimate that the loss in revenue will be around 35 percent for the big firms and more than 60 percent for the smaller ones. You don’t need much imagination to realize the consequences. Our group last year froze an investment of many millions of dollars, initially planned for the Olympic Games, and has also put off a three-year plan for the construction of three top-quality vessels in Greece, budgeted at around $60 million. Other firms have made similar revisions of their initial plans.»