Greece needs to push ahead with efforts to diversify its tourism services if it is to maintain growth in the sector and ward off growing competition from neighboring markets, Tourism Development Minister Fanni Palli-Petralia said yesterday. Presenting guidelines on the ministry’s 2007-2013 plan, Petralia stressed the need to upgrade the vital tourism sector. «Enriching the industry requires the differentiation of products by offering alternative possibilities and opportunities to the visitor,» she said. Tourism is one of the country’s most vital sectors, contributing 18 percent of total economic output and creating more than 800,00 jobs. Data from the first half of the year showed a positive start to 2006 as foreign tourist arrivals to Greece rose 6.3 percent, according to the Association of Greek Tourist Enterprises (SETE). The figure stands in contrast to arrivals in Turkey and Cyprus, which were down 10.52 percent and 2.46 percent respectively in the first five months of the year. However, a report by the Athens University of Economics and Business pointed out that this year’s good performance has been aided by unfavorable developments in competing destination countries. Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas said that the government is putting its weight behind new tourism initiatives in areas focusing on the natural environment, diving and sports activities. «Our target is to increase the time spent here by tourists and expand the tourism season beyond the summer months,» he said. A draft bill, submitted by the Tourism Ministry, introducing measures aimed at attracting visitors with healthcare and ecotourism is currently being discussed in Parliament.