Olympics: Two years on, few promises kept

Greece faced a double challenge in undertaking the 2004 Olympics – to hold a successful Games and reap the benefits of what was an enormous investment. The first task, which took up almost all of the then newly elected New Democracy government’s energies during its first six months in office, was accomplished. The accomplishment of the second, however, is still pending. Two years after the Games, the state of most of the venues (which cost at least 100 million euros a year to maintain) show a lack of planning regarding their post-Olympic fate. Only recently were three of them granted to business interests for development, while competitions for another four are under way. This means that it will take at least another couple of years before the public will be able to make use of them. Other ambitious plans announced at the time, which would have changed the city’s image, such as the environment park at Faliron, have been completely abandoned. However, the country has benefited considerably from the positive publicity it received. Over the past two years, tourism has increased to the tune of another billion euros in revenues. If all goes according to plan, in a few years’ time Athenians will be faced with a surfeit of choice for entertainment venues. To shopping centers and cultural venues have been added restaurants and hotels in order to encourage investment. But Athens has not succeeded in becoming another Barcelona, whose citizens were handed a truly better city after their own Olympics. International Broadcasting Center, Maroussi: A 6.8-hectare site next to the Olympic Stadium on Kifissias Avenue is to house the Greek Olympic Games Museum and the International Classical Athletics Museum. The rest of the building has been leased to Lamda Development for a shopping and entertainment complex. Badminton Stadium, Goudi: This 6,000-square-meter structure on a 2.5-hectare site is being converted into a 2,200-seat cultural center for plays and concerts. Galatsi Olympic Center: Opposite Veikou Park on a 9.2-hectare site, it has been leased to the Sonae Sierra-Acropole Haragionis group for development as an entertainment and shopping mall. Canoe-Kayak Center: A competition is under way for this site, the most attractive of the Hellenikon venues to investors. Major groups in the entertainment industry are tussling for this site’s development as a water park. Aghios Cosmas Sailing Center: With a capacity for 1,000 boats, this 42.5-hectare area includes 16,000 square meters of buildings. Its fate is to be decided within the next three months. Business plans for the site include a hotel. At present it is fenced off and inaccessible to the public. Beach Volleyball Court, Faliron: This 3,300-seat amphitheater will be used for concerts and other cultural events. Its fate is also to be decided within the next three months. Tae Kwon Do Stadium, Faliron: A month ago a ruling was passed to convert this 11,500-square-meter building into a convention center through a Public Private Partnership (PPP). Faliron Marina: A 9.3-hectare site that includes 5,000 square meters of buildings, it is to be granted to the Sailing Federation for use as a National Sailing Center within the next few weeks. Hellenikon venues: The fate of the other four venues at Hellenikon (baseball, basketball, fencing, softball and hockey) is awaiting the issue of a presidential decree on the Hellenikon Metropolitan Park which will determine land use and building restrictions. According to a statement by the Environment and Public Works Ministery, the auxiliary structures are to be demolished. Main Press Center, Maroussi: Comprising two buildings totaling 28,600 square meters, it is to house the Health Ministry, expected to move there by the end of the year. Nikaia Olympic Center: This 24,400-square-meter building is to be granted to Piraeus University. Ano Liosia Center: The fate of this 35,000-square-meter closed stadium has not yet been decided, but it is most likely destined to house the Culture Academies currently being set up, converted by means of a PPP. Markopoulo Rifle Range: The use of the four buildings on a 30.5-hectare site near the airport, and currently in poor repair, is to be decided by means of a competition. Possibly it could be used either by police or by hunting and rifle associations. Markopoulo Equestrian Center: This includes four arenas, stables and auxiliary buildings. A golf course and hotel are to be constructed on part of the 28.9-hectare site. Schinias Rowing Center: Within the Schinias National Park, it includes two lakes totaling 60 hectares. It is fenced off and looks uncared for. It is considered the most difficult venue to convert to other use, as initial plans for a hotel and other recreational use were rejected as being incompatible with a national park. Iraklion Stadium, Crete: Agreement has been reached to grant it to the Municipality of Iraklion. Plans to be submitted on August 28 for the city council’s approval include investment in a tourism-commercial-entertainment complex on the adjoining site. Thessaly Stadium, Volos: Since 2004, it has been used as the home ground of the national second-division soccer team. Peloponnese Stadium, Patras: Since last year, it has been the home ground of the local second-division team. New tourism policy is paying off handsomely The considerable rise in revenues from tourism over the past two years is being attributed more to the systematic efforts of promotion made since 2004 and only secondly to the Olympic Games. Arrivals in June and July rose by 8 percent. According to the Institute for Tourism Research and Forecasts (ITEP), the current tourism year «appears to be developing very well, probably extremely well from the point of view of arrivals, since the increases in June and July were considerable.» According to ITEP figures, the average rate of increase for tourist arrivals from abroad was 8.3 percent in June and 8.8 percent in July, with uniform increases in all major tourist destinations in Greece. The increase of 3.2 percent in January to May rose to 8.1 percent in January to July. Traffic to the Ionian Islands, which had dropped off in recent years, also marked an increase of 3.5 percent for January to July, compared to a 0.7 drop over the same period last year. The northern Aegean islands also saw more visitors – 7.3 percent more, compared to a 4.7 percent drop last year. There was a similar trend in the Cyclades. Greece missed its chance to benefit from the Olympics to the utmost. Its tourism promotion budget for the five years before 2004 was equal to that spent last year and this year for the purpose. In comparison, Spain and Turkey spent respectively 20 and 10 times more than Greece. Tourism policy in Greece appeared to change in 2004 when the competition for the 2005 promotion campaign was released, so that it could coincide with the period when foreigners usually make their bookings. This new concept, combined with the success of the Olympics, brought 1.5 million more tourists in 2005-2006 than in 2004.

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