Poor facilities and high prices have driven tourists away

Summer of 2003 is nearly over but no one in the tourist sector cares to recall it. The fall in the number of arrivals was with difficulty reined in at 5 percent, while the drop in tourism income reached 25 percent. The war in Iraq, the spread of sudden acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), the fear of terrorist attacks and the slump in the economy affected tourism not only in Greece but all around the globe. But the causes in this country may run deeper. While the Aegean sun and blue sea are indisputably two of the country’s best drawing points, they may not suffice. Greece has long ceased to be the cheap solution for Europeans seeking to enjoy a Mediterranean way of life, with the cost of holidays here comparable to those of France and Spain and significantly higher than those in Turkey. By general consensus, the rise in prices has not been accompanied by a commensurable improvement in infrastructure and the level of proffered services, sectors in which Greece is considerably behind its competitors. Thus, while cheap tourism has drifted away to the competition, its place is not being taken by quality tourism. As Aris Ikkos, director of the management consultant company JBR, which specializes in tourism, pointed out to Kathimerini, «a client that pays 2,000 euros for a room cannot be expected to hang around in huge queues for taxis at Athens Airport.» Badly made roads, a lack of sidewalks, badly organized beaches and an absence of facilities for children also put off foreign tourists, especially families. «Tourists don’t want to stay inside their hotel, but to go for walks outside, in safety,» Ikkos said. «In many parts of the country, they don’t have that option.» Well-organized marinas, with a high standard of facilities, are also sorely lacking. Star awards The destruction of the natural environment is another factor that counts with tourists. According to Ikkos, «ecological damage in Greece has put off tourists, although the situation is not as disastrous as in Spain or Cyprus.» And the rapid rise in costs, without the accompanying service, sits badly with even well-heeled tourists, who tend to be more demanding. But Greece’s Achilles’ heel, compared to other Mediterranean countries, is organization, of which a typical example is the categorization of hotels. «Last week, it was announced that hotels would supply their own certificate. That is, each hotelier will decide how many stars his business has. It’s an unheard-of measure. In all other countries, there is a special body that awards the stars.» The meaning of «resort» has also not penetrated, said Ikkos. «It’s regarded as a hotel, with a conference center and some other services.» Another problem for tourists is transport connections. «Anyone not flying direct to an island via charter flight has to waste a day in Athens,» said Ikkos. Other countries In short, as management consultant for TUI Hellas, Nikos Papathanassis, told Kathimerini, «inflation is losing us low- and middle-income tourists and bad infrastructure is losing us high-income tourists.» Spain is the Mediterranean country which has the most in common with Greece – i.e. high prices and old facilities. Nevertheless, organization and the fact that Spain has all-year-round tourism give it the edge. Majorca alone, Papathanassis pointed out, has the same annual number of tourists as visit the whole of Greece every year. The difference between the Spanish island and the Balkan country, Ikkos noted, lies in Majorca’s excellent facilities: «parks, cycle routes, and so forth. A family can go out on their bikes without danger. Its airport is bigger than Athens’s Eleftherios Venizelos. It has many more flights than Greece to and from Britain and other countries and these continue all year round, while here, the number of flights drop after the summer.» While the island suffers from the ecological impact of tourism, its medieval town continues to charm tourists, and the mountain villages are in excellent condition. Italy, which is superior to Greece in all sectors, also has year-round tourism. It offers a large number of options and ease of movement since both car and train travel are possible. For precisely this reason, Italy was not affected by the unfavorable climate caused by the Iraq war and the fear of terrorist attacks. Although it is relatively more expensive than Greece, its modern facilities (tourists can choose between villas, houses and small hotels) place it higher up on the list of tourists’ choices, especially for higher-income travelers. Diversity And an electronic roundup of tourism options in neighboring Turkey impresses with the variety in its types of tourism: From the usual – conference, religious, winter, agro-based, mountaineering and rafting – to bird-watching, cave exploring and following the Silk Road. It goes without saying that the country has large numbers of golf courses and marinas for high-income tourists. This tourist industry has grown in this vast country on the initiative of large-business men, without any state intervention. Turkish Tourism Ministry statistics, interestingly enough, show that charter flight arrivals in 1985 numbered 430,000, a figure which rose to 7,800,000 in 2002. Advantages Turkey has not been left unscathed by the economic crisis. Since 2002, average length of stay has been 4.2 days for hotels and 5.2 days for pensions. What are Turkey’s comparative advantages over other destinations in the Mediterranean? «Dirt-cheap hotels with high-quality facilities, good service and good food,» said the owner of tourist agency Rai Tours in Bremen, Germany, Retsai Aitas. What are the problems of Turkish tourism? «There is no infrastructure. From Attaleia airport to Alania, which has 1 million tourists a year, you need to spend two whole hours on a bus that goes over bad roads. There is no political stability in the country, which, at the same time, is a Muslim country. Thirdly, antiquities and the huge number of monuments in Turkey from various civilizations are not adequately preserved.» But, he concludes, «Turkey is a very beautiful country. Here is where you find the rest of the Greek world. While in winter there are three weekly flights from Bremen to Attaleia, Greece does not exist in any brochure for winter tourism.»

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