NEWS

Iraq war fears hit Greek tourism, bookings dry up

Fears of war in Iraq have hit the Greek tourism industry, with bookings for the summer holidays frozen at around 15 percent below last year’s level, the country’s top tourism official said yesterday. Deputy Development Minister Dimitris Georgakopoulos said a short conflict would not inflict much damage on an industry that accounts for about 15 percent of the Greek economy and employs about 10 percent of its work force. «The March bookings for April and May were initially up by 5-10 percent compared to last March. But when the clouds of war started gathering they froze completely, and figures show now they are down by about 15 percent,» said Georgakopoulos, who is in charge of tourism. «But we are hopeful that if the war ends soon, if the conflict lasts a few days, they will immediately pick up again and we will make up the difference,» he told Reuters. Greece welcomed about 14 million visitors in 2002, down by 2 percent from a year earlier because more tourists stayed at home after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the USA. The president of Greece’s National Tourism Organization, Yiannis Patelis, said he expected the number of tourists visiting Greece this year to be more or less the same as last year. He forecast a small drop next year, when Athens hosts the Olympics. «During and after the Games there is a small drop, because people tend to stay away from where the Games are. But this year, if there is a short conflict in Iraq it will hopefully not affect Greek tourism much,» he said. Bank of Greece officials said last week they were concerned that war would hit inflation and tourism in Greece even more than in other eurozone countries. War is looming ever larger, with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein rejecting a 48-hour US ultimatum to go into exile. (Reuters)