Russians flock to north coast

Some 75,000 Russian holidaymakers visited northern Greece this summer, the highest number in 15 years, as the region is developing into an increasingly popular tourist attraction for the emerging Balkan countries, industry sources said yesterday. According to figures from the Halkidiki Hotel Association, 75,000 Russians arrived at the airport in Thessaloniki this year versus 60,000 in 2005. The number of visitors from Romania is also up sharply, 40 percent, from 2005 with most of them heading to the Pieria region and the coast southeast of Thessaloniki. «They are tourists with a good level [of income],» said Gerasimos Bakoyannis, president of the Halkidiki Hotel Association. «They are mostly entrepreneurs, executives. Generally those who rent rooms are quiet people and do not cause trouble,» he said. This profile contrasts favorably with tourist groups from other countries, such as Britain, who mostly visit the islands and have become known for their rowdy drunken behavior. Industry experts said that improved road networks, the country’s good ties with its northern neighbors and improved commercial dealings have contributed to the influx of tourists. Sources said they expect visitor numbers from Balkan countries to improve in the future as Bulgaria and Romania are to enter the European Union. According to local businessmen, the spending power comes mostly from the Russian tourists, who appear to have the highest disposable incomes. More than 250 fur shops operate in Pieria in the summer months, catering exclusively to visiting Russian consumers. Sources said that some of the wealthier Russians have also started to invest in beachside property in the are. Tourist numbers from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia have also been improving but visa restrictions have kept the growth of this market low. Additionally, sources told Kathimerini that poor facilities at entry points at the border lengthen the time needed for visitors to enter the country.

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