The year is coming to a close and the Athens hotel market is heaving a huge sigh of relief as a study conducted for the Athens-Attica Hoteliers’ Association has revealed that the average occupancy rate in the broader area of the Greek capital was up 4.2 percent in the year to September period compared to the first nine months of last year. At the same time the average room rate increased 4.6 percent and revenues per room rose 8.5 percent.
The City of Athens, which is always quick to express its enthusiasm at any good news that may appear, regularly tries to take credit for the Greek capital’s popularity as a tourism destination, citing rising visitor numbers as confirmation that they’re doing something right at City Hall. Besides the promising data, however, more careful scrutiny of the report reveals less positive aspects that relate to the visitor experience. For example, the tourist satisfaction rating for Athens declined this year to 7.7/10 from 8/10 in 2015. Likewise, the percentage of visitors who would recommend Athens to a friend or relative for a holiday contracted to 91 percent this year from 94 percent in 2016 and 96 percent in 2014.
So what is it that’s bothering tourists about the country’s capital? Well, the same things that bother us: the noise, poorly maintained streets, sidewalks and buildings, the absence of information signs, widespread graffiti and the shortage of parks.
So instead of patting itself on the back for a development that is more likely due to the declining appeal of rival destinations in the region, the City of Athens should focus on solving some of these “superficial” problems that affect residents as much as they do visitors.
The day will come when the good fortune of Greek tourism changes and we’ll curse our bad luck. But even the best of luck will not be able to save us if we don’t address important issues like the degeneration of Omonia Square, the commercial meltdown on Stadiou Street, the surrender of many parts of the city center to criminal gangs and simple problems of cleanliness and sanitation in central locations that mar the Athenian experience irreparably and at very great cost.