Private operators tap delays in Olympic accommodation plan

At a time when the tender for manager of the official accommodation program, involving the leasing of thousands of private apartments during the 2004 Olympic Games, seems to be foundering, an extensive network has been developed by estate and travel agents promising riches to property owners who agree to rent their houses through private unofficial agreements. The official program seems to have been hastily planned without much consultation between the government and Athens 2004, the Olympics organizers, and now each side is blaming the other for the threatened failure. Athens 2004, which has extended the official deadline for tender bids until November 15 as the three interested groups now appear hesitant, is preparing to file for injunctions against estate and travel agents, which, through advertising material and websites, have been calling on Greeks «to participate in the implementation of the national vision.» Sources say they have already compiled long lists of apartments and bought tickets to the Games. There does not seem to be any good incentive for the would-be bidders to be enthusiastic about submitting the required letters of guarantee for 4.5 million euros. Disincentives The delays in the tender, linked to legal vacuums and unclear points in ministerial decisions, have left the field open for estate and travel agents, who have neither to wait for the completion of tenders nor to submit letters of guarantee and are busy signing contracts instead. For their part, property owners have no reason to wait for Athens 2004 to launch its program when they know that they will be subject to a 10 percent tax – to be paid in advance. Athens 2004 has tried to gain some control over the plan but the indications are that it has failed. This prospect and the pressures exercised by the three candidate groups (representing strong interests, such as Alpha Bank, EFG Eurobank Ergasias and Lambrakis Press) have led the organizers to send a letter to the government, warning of ultimate failure. In the letter, they say that the provision for the 10 percent tax «creates counter-incentives that will lead the tender to complete failure.» According to sources, the Olympic Project Monitoring Group intends to propose to Economy Minister Nikos Christodoulakis that this provision be waived. To date, it has not been clarified whether the tax is to be levied on going market rents or the revenue earned during the period in question, which will be much higher. Moreover, neither the latest legislation on Olympic projects nor the relevant ministerial decisions have determined the areas to be included in the accommodation program. It is also unclear whether accommodation will be available to foreign visitors only. The interested companies are pressing for it to also be available to Greeks from other parts of the country. Finally, it has also not been determined what agency will certify the apartments to be let and when that is to be. The initial plan envisaged the involvement of the National Tourism Organization, but the relevant ministerial decisions were never issued.

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