Unique opportunity

“There has been great progress in tourism services,» Prime Minister Costas Simitis said yesterday at an interministerial committee meeting on tourism that was attended by 10 ministers. Notably, the prime minister said that Greece now provides a «wide range of high-quality services.» Notwithstanding a few bright exceptions, hundreds of thousands of dissatisfied or indignant Greek and foreign tourists will surely disagree with the premier’s claims. There are countless cases involving illegal profiteering and an unacceptable quality of services that darken the glossed-up picture that Simitis painted yesterday. The government and, above all, the private individuals who work in the local tourism sector are responsible for the sorry state of Greece’s services. The 2004 Olympic Games have presented Greek tourism with a huge challenge and, at the same time, a golden opportunity. Millions of people will visit our country for the first time to attend the event and nearly all of them will want to combine their stay with a bit of sightseeing or a holiday tour. We must treat this event as a chance to infuse first-time visitors with a desire to return here as tourists. Barring reasonable criticism of the negative aspects of the Games, we must nevertheless stress that such events are always a historic opportunity to advertise the host country, especially when it is a small state like Greece. We harbor no illusions that the myopic, profiteering attitude that characterizes the majority of people in Greece’s tourism industry will change for a few months merely because the country is hosting the Olympics. We are fully aware that such negative phenomena – particularly that of illicit price hikes – will intensify during the Games as some individuals rush to exploit the large inflow of foreigners to the country. There are some instances in the peaceful history of nations that are really unique, in the sense that they provide the possibility of economic development in a certain sector. The Games offer this unique opportunity for Greece’s tourism sector which, according to the prime minister, contributes up to 15 percent of GDP and creates 690,000 jobs. If people in the tourism industry can manage to transcend their chronic shortcomings and display good sense rather than opportunism, then our country would make a significant leap in its struggle for long-term economic development. Should, on the other hand, economic opportunism prevail over long-term economic perspective, the Games will be defamatory to our tourism.