Greece is in the process of a qualitative upgrading of its tourism industry and a great effort is required if it is to retain its competitiveness, a top official said yesterday. «We must sweat a great deal in order to maintain what we already have,» said the Greek National Tourism Organization’s (GNTO) chairman, Yiannis Patellis, at a press briefing in Thessaloniki ahead of the 18th Philoxenia annual tourism exhibition which opens on Thursday, October 31. He said that foreign visitors were increasingly turning to expensive five- and four-star hotels, a trend which is expected to be consolidated as of 2003. Patellis said «a great deal will be different from what we know» and that the future of Greek tourism lies in big and well-organized hotel units, conference facilities and cruises; these are expected to do very well, in contrast to a large number of small hotels which will face difficulties if they do not cooperate. He noted the necessary changes required closer cooperation between public agencies and private enterprise in changing the industry’s profile. «We must cooperate closely and get away from the trio of ‘sun-sea-sand’,» he said. GNTO is now seeking new markets, mainly in Asia and is particularly interested in China, which is projected to send about 20 million tourists abroad in coming years. GNTO has prepared a special album for this purpose. Also, a special publication, on «In the Steps of Paul the Apostle» is scheduled to be presented in December in Thessaloniki and is designed to boost religious tourism in the area. GNTO’s planned bureau in Cyprus will be followed by a campaign to attract high-income tourists from Arab countries, Patellis said. For this year, Patellis said provisional data showed a 1-2 percent fall in arrivals, although the Bank of Greece indicated a 2.5 percent rise in tourism receipts. Philoxenia, which is to last until November 3, will hold presentations of GNTO studies on the tourism attributes of the country according to regions and also of a study on the potential of health tourism. The event will host a total of 655 exhibitors, 535 from Greece and the rest from 38 countries. There are 12 official country pavilions, from Egypt, Albania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Spain, India, Italy, Cyprus, Poland, Thailand, Turkey and Tunisia. Also present will be the European Tourism Trade Fairs Association (ETTFA), which has 20 members. At the press briefing, it was also announced that Development Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos, who will open the exhibition, is expected to discuss with his Russian counterpart the issue of big delays in the granting of visas to Russians wishing to visit Greece, which has recently caused repeated protests by tourism operators. Separately, sources said the Development and Transport ministries are working closely in view of a planned EU regulation equating charter with scheduled flights as regards consumers’ compensation clauses. Such an equation would put Greece at a disadvantage, due to its strong dependence on charter flights, which would be made more expensive.