Tourism needs a change of mentality

Tourism professionals have long been debating the need for more strategic planning in promoting Greek tourism in foreign markets, but also for an effort to boost the industry on the home front. Greece missed a golden opportunity to benefit from the run-up to the 2004 Olympics; for the five years leading up to 2004, the state allocated an amount equivalent to what it spent this year and last on promoting Greece as a holiday destination. In the year before the Olympics, when Greece did almost nothing to attract tourists, Spain spent 20 times more than Greece and Turkey almost 10 times as much. As a result of these and other policies, those two countries are now among the most profitable tourist destinations in the Mediterranean basin. In 2004, a decision was made that was unprecedented in Greece: to call for bids for the 2005 advertising campaign to run during the period when foreign tourists make their bookings for the following summer. As a result of that campaign, in combination with the success of the Olympics, Greece benefited to the tune of 1.5 million more foreign tourists in 2005-2006 than in the Olympic year. Based on the most conservative estimates, this increase in arrivals translates into an additional 1 billion euros in revenues for the Greek economy. The advertising campaign for 2005 and 2006 cost 70 million euros, far more than all the previous years, but no higher than that spent every year by Greece’s competitors in the Mediterranean. The question now is how to reinvest this additional revenue in the tourist economy so as to maintain the momentum over time. Several parameters have to be taken into consideration here. First of all is the fact that in 2002-2003 the Greek economy suffered revenue losses of 2 billion euros due to the reduction in tourism, according to the Institute of Tourism Research and Forecasts. Market analyses have shown that the best customers are those who keep coming back, whether to major hotels or small tavernas in the most isolated destinations. Putting money back into the tourism economy does not necessarily mean increasing funds, but revising priorities and finding other basic requirements in the sector. For example, a greater effort is needed to raise awareness among the public, business owners and local government of environmental issues, particularly during the peak season. There needs to be a greater awareness of what tourism means, particularly in a country that every year welcomes a number of people greater than in its own population. The basis has to be laid from a very young age for an appropriate attitude to both Greek and foreign holidaymakers. Directives about aesthetics and architecture also need to be given to small businesses. At the same time, the Economy and Development ministries’ allocation of funds should be based on support for healthy businesses at all levels of activity, as well as for improving their competitiveness, whether at the central or regional level. When the New Democracy government embarked on its promotion campaign last year, it was faced with a dilemma given the abandoned state of the tourism industry over the past 25 years, both in the private and public sectors, where «sun and sea» was the be-all and end-all. It was decided that, initially, the existing image should be continued, but with variations aimed at promoting alternative forms of tourism throughout the country and in all seasons. At the same time, attention was given to the «forgotten» Greek tourist. Another positive move is that the advertising budget for the next season is no longer determined during the parliamentary vote on the regular state budget, which comes at the end of the year. In the past this led to delays in the advertising campaign in foreign markets, a delay that was exploited by Greece’s competitors. As in the past two years, the campaign should begin in November and continue till March, stepped up accordingly during each country’s booking season. Just because Greeks tend to book their holidays at the last minute does not mean that the British or Italians do the same. One of the biggest mistakes made by tourism authorities in the past was to organize their advertising campaigns on the basis of what Greeks do. There has also been a change in the Greek booths at international tourism fairs. Over the past two years, the use of modern technology has resulted in prize-winning booths adapted to the business needs of the Greek firms participating.