Greek Americans give ailing tourism another boost

After gracing New York City?s iconic Times Square with a giant billboard depicting images of classic Greek scenes — the Acropolis, a cafe table with two wooden chairs — in March and April, the Up Greek Tourism campaign has unveiled another — this one featuring the classic blue dome of an island church with the sea in the background — in central Washington DC.

The campaign comes at what is proving to be a difficult time for the country?s vital tourism sector, with the Hellenic Association of Travel and Tourism Agents (HATTA) on Friday sending a letter to the leaders of Greece?s main political parties warning of the negative effects that the prevailing political uncertainty is having on the industry. They asked that the political leadership make assurances to Greece?s partners that it is a stable and safe country in which to travel, arguing that ?international tourism agents are freezing their bookings and withdrawing their associates from the country.?

Up Greek Tourism is an initiative started in 2009 by a group of Greek Americans in New York, spearheaded by Yorgos Kleivokiotis, Onic Palandjian and Stathis Haikalis, in response to the Greek crisis and the tarnishing of the country?s image in the international media. The group has grown since 2009 to include marketing, management and promotion experts who raise funds and design campaigns promoting the Greek destination.

?We are talking with Boston, Atlanta and Chicago,? said Jim Stoucker, a campaign member. ?We hope to be able to expand to these cities soon and to help Greece, and especially the 20 percent of its citizens who work in the tourism industry.?

According to Art Dimopoulos, who coordinated the Washington initiative, the campaign has the support of the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA) and the American Hellenic Institute (AHI).

?Our aim to increase tourism in Greece,? Dimopoulos said.

AHI President Nick Larigakis noted that ?15 percent of Greek GDP comes from tourism. Given the situation, it is imperative that the country?s revenues from tourism increase.?