NEWS

Greek hopes for an Olympic boom in tourism are dashed

Greek hoteliers are slashing prices in a last-ditch effort to lure foreigners to Athens this summer after hopes of an Olympics-driven tourist boom were dashed, industry officials said yesterday. Security concerns, high prices and a failure to link Greece’s sea-and-sun image with the modern Olympics have pushed foreign arrivals down by 12 percent over last year, nine days before the Games begin. Adding to hoteliers’ woes, 7,500 Athens hotel workers went on a 24-hour strike yesterday. «The drop recorded compared to expectations is dramatic,» said Nikos Angelopoulos, vice president of the Greek Tourist Industry Association. «The Olympics on their own were not reason enough for foreigners to come,» he said. Most officials blame Greece’s failure to capitalize on the world’s biggest sports event on greed. Hotels inflated prices last winter on hopes of high demand that never materialized and instead scared away many visitors. «The prices we got from hotels in the winter were too high. Now we keep getting offers slashing them drastically,» said Beryl Fotopoulos, co-owner of Metropolitan Travel in Athens, which specializes in tourism to Greece. The Hellenic Association of Travel and Tourist Agencies (HATTA) said Athens hotels had expected to sell 100,000 to 150,000 beds a night during the August 13-29 Games but have sold only 70,000 to 120,000. They are now cutting prices for mid-range hotels to 150 euros ($180) from 350-400 euros and for luxury hotels to 350 euros from 500-600 euros. «Some hoteliers overpriced and didn’t get any clients. It serves them right,» said Yiannis Evangelou, HATTA’s president. Greece had 12 million visitors last year, more than its 11 million population. Tourism makes up 18 percent of its economy and employs about 800,000 people. The 7,500 hotel workers who went on strike yesterday are demanding better pay and threatening to extend their action to the Olympics. «We love the tourists and the people, but we have got to survive as well. We can’t survive on this,» said one hotel worker, Nikos Papageorgiou. Games organizers ATHOC have booked about 90 percent of the rooms in the Athens region but, despite the guaranteed arrivals of Olympic officials and guests, the industry failed to buck a declining trend in recent years. In central Athens’s Syntagma Square, usually teeming with tourists, few foreign visitors were spotted on an August afternoon. A group of Romanians said they were impressed with the city’s Olympic makeover but were concerned about costs. «It’s a very nice city and the people are also very nice but the prices are a bit high,” said Doru Paunescu, 35. The Greek Tourism Organization (EOT) said prices were the main reason for the decline but also admitted its advertising campaign came too late and did not capitalize on the Olympics. It said it was now trying to lure last-minute travelers. «Our expectations were too high when we got the Olympics. It was wrong to focus all hopes on this one year,» Harry Coccossis, EOT’s president, said.