OPINION

Greek tourism needs to respond

Never before has an Olympic host shown a drop in tourism. Reports across the country indicate that in Attica, where the bulk of the Games events will take place, hotel bookings are satisfactory (in some places there may even be shortages of accommodation), but overall, Greece appears to be heading for a 10 to 15 percent decline in tourist visits. The stagnant or even declining number of visitors is a problem that has dogged Greece’s tourism sector for years, and the causes of the crisis are deep-seated. Tourism is not some passing trend that can be tied exclusively to the Olympic Games. On the other hand, the Games present an unparalleled opportunity to promote the host country, but it is far from certain that we did our best in that respect. Furthermore, we should pay heed to a number of long-term factors which could enable Greece to boost its tourism sector in a highly competitive environment. Security is the first aspect. Greece is the safest among the countries of the Mediterranean. However, we did little to project this image abroad – particularly in light of the fact that foreign media will take every opportunity to run Greece down. The most serious shortcomings concern Greece’s tourist infrastructure and attitude. Attitude is not a concern just for hotels and well-known tourist resorts. It involves everyone who offers his or her services to foreign visitors – from taxi drivers to kiosk owners and street vendors. If these people, or even some of them, treat tourists as easy targets for fraud or deception, then these visitors are bound to turn their backs on us sooner or later. Unfortunately, such phenomena have become very common. Needless to say, a country plagued by unjustified price hikes and profiteering cannot expect to increase its tourist inflow. A few decades ago, the government made an attempt to install infrastructure for modest-budget tourism. This type of tourism is still on offer for the bulk of foreign visitors, but they have meanwhile raised their standards. We must satisfy the demands of these visitors but we must also cater to high-budget tourism and meet the expectations of people with completely different requirements.