OPINION

Tourists, refugees, immigrants and the state

tourists-refugees-immigrants-and-the-state

Despite all the difficulties, tourism continued to grow during the crisis, with arrivals and receipts rising from 15.5 million people and 10.4 billion euros in 2012 to 23.5 million people and 14.2 billion euros last year. The president of the Association of Hellenic Tourism Enterprises, Andreas Andreadis, sees foreign arrivals reaching 25 million this year and receipts 15 billion euros. This depends, of course, on the government reaching consensus with Greece’s creditors (thus ending the uncertainty) and on competent handling of the refugee issue.

“The rise will not be horizontal across the country. Certain destinations which are affected by the refugee issue will show a significant drop in arrivals,” Andreadis was quoted as saying in Berlin on Wednesday, where he attended the ITB international tourism fair. The tourism sector demands economic and social stability, and so both the creditors’ evaluation of progress and the refugee issue will play a crucial role in developments. But both issues present opportunities as well as challenges. The economy’s stabilization will allow investments and growth in tourism; dealing with refugees and immigrants sensitively and effectively can bolster the country’s image.

It is imperative that the state achieve the right balance of sympathy and decisiveness that will ensure good living conditions for the tens of thousands of refugees and migrants who will be forced to stay here, as well as prepare the ground for their harmonious coexistence with local communities. This can come about only through cooperation with municipal authorities, with our partners in the EU, with international organizations, with nongovernmental organizations and volunteers. It demands that everyone play a part, from the individual citizen to the EU and the United Nations. Surely, many people around the world will look kindly on the efforts of Greeks and others who have come here to help the refugees; if we can prevent people fearing that the country may be slipping toward chaos, many will choose to spend their vacation money here next summer, even though reservations to some destinations are down.

But we should not focus only on the creditors’ evaluation and the refugee issue to consider tourism’s future. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) country report for Greece that was made public on Thursday notes other spheres that need attention. Among growth measures would be the use, through concessions or privatization, of large tracts of idle public land, as well as the simplifying of procedures and scrapping of obstacles to investments.

Smooth interaction between private entities and the state is always a target but is also very rare in our country. The OECD report stresses the need for this cooperation and proposes a number of measures, as it has done for years. Today we have two choices: Just as the continuation of economic uncertainty and of the refugee crisis will be catastrophic, so will a positive outcome in both issues be a leap toward salvation and growth.