Urban degeneration hits tourism

The spiraling trafficking and use of drugs in the capital’s historic center, as well as brawls among addicts and illegal immigrants, has resulted in large numbers of tourists avoiding the area and has led to a 25 percent drop in hotel reservations and inestimable damage to the sector, local hoteliers have told Kathimerini. «The last straw for tourists was the constant brawls between local immigrants and the drug dealers and addicts who could often be seen outside hotels,» said Alexandros Arapakis, a local hotel manager. Arapakis said that the two foreign travel agents with whom he had longstanding cooperation wrote to him recently to break off business relations following a slew of complaints from dissatisfied visitors. «The services offered by the hotel and staff all these years remain excellent but the so-called historic center has changed and our clients no longer feel safe,» one of the travel agents noted in its letter. According to Arapakis, the impact of the area’s degeneration is not restricted to local businesses. «What bothers me more than the financial loss is this image of Athens which tourists carry back to their homes – this damage is incalculable and will take years to repair,» Arapakis said. The losses suffered by local hoteliers are significantly greater than those of hotels in other areas. According to industry analysts, hotel reservations in the historic center – where nearly half of Attica’s hotel capacity is located – have fallen by 25 percent, as compared to a 15 percent drop in other parts of the capital and elsewhere in the country. Travel agents based in the city center are also struggling with recent developments. «We have lost customers before they even get out of the cab,» Yiannis Politis, a representative of one local travel agency, told Kathimerini. According to Politis, many tourists have told their taxi driver to keep driving after seeing the shady characters lurking outside the hotels where they had planned to stay. As for those tourists who do stay, travel agents feel obliged to prepare them for the worst. «We find ourselves in the unpleasant position of giving our customers two pieces of advice: Keep your bags in front of you and never take your passport with you when you go out,» Politis said.