Tourism in trouble

The Greek tourism industry is facing a crisis in a year during which it expected to reap the rewards of Athens’s hosting of the Olympic Games, according to the Association of Greek Tourist Enterprises (SETE). Based on data regarding foreign tourist arrivals at the country’s main airports through the first half of the year, SETE estimates that tourist arrivals may end up showing a decline of 8 percent for the whole year. Given the importance of the tourism industry, which accounts for 18 percent of Greece’s gross domestic product (GDP), this decline would translate, according to SETE estimates, into 20,000 fewer jobs, a loss of 800 million euros in revenue and an impact of 0.7 percent on GDP growth, initially estimated at 4.1 percent for 2004. «This negative development in the year of the Olympics, for which great expectations had been raised, brings up the issue of the competitiveness of Greek tourism. The public sector is ready to collaborate in drawing up a long-term strategy. We expect the government to do the same and implement its pre-election promises,» SETE said in a statement yesterday. The latest estimates show that the decline will also show in July figures. The greatest problem, according to SETE, is that extraneous reasons usually used for the decline in tourism, such as the impact of economic slowdown, especially in Europe, the strength of the euro, and fears of terrorist activity, do not appear to affect Greece’s main competitors, such as Cyprus, Spain and Turkey. In fact, other Mediterranean countries are experiencing a boom in tourist arrivals. SETE is calling on the government to take certain measures, even at this late hour, to reverse the trend. The proposed measures include an intensified campaign to take advantage of the publicity generated by the Olympics and even Greece’s surprise victory in the Euro 2004 soccer championship; a more active role by the specially appointed crisis committee in order to minimize the negative publicity in foreign media of events such as the explosion of gas canisters outside a police station or the blackout in southern Greece last week; a severe crackdown on instances of price-gouging and bad service during the Olympics; and easier visa procedures for non-EU visitors after the Games.