OPINION

The tourism slump

In response to the serious slump in the Greek tourism industry, in a year during which it expected to capitalize on Athens’s hosting of the Olympic Games, Tourism Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos announced a 30-million-euro advertising campaign. This is a welcome move, in the light of poor marketing in the past years, but alone it will not suffice to solve the problem. Despite reassurances to the contrary, the country’s tourism crisis is more structural than circumstantial. Greece’s tourism product, mostly based on the appeal of the sun and sea, leaves much be desired in terms of modern infrastructure, luxury hotels and codes of behavior and ethics, none of which meet modern needs any longer. The Greek tourism model is a spent force, having exhausted its potential after decades of unruly development that saw the mushrooming of many small hotels and an opportunistic approach to foreign visitors. Our tourism services are not only overpriced but also seriously lagging behind those offered by new Mediterranean competitors in terms of quality. Sea and sun alone cannot attract foreign tourists any more. Greece’s natural environment has been degraded, tourists have higher expectations, and neighboring destinations offer more at lower prices. However, we refuse to change, we insist on trying to take tourists for a ride, we show little respect for the customer and all those principles which help create a long-term relationship with foreigners. The tourism sector has for many years been abandoned to its fate. Investment was scarce, the State focused on different priorities, while the local communities on most Aegean islands sought to make quick profits. Only recently have they started to realize the damage that has been done (with the exception of a few small islands and communities that are now reaping the reward of having respected their traditions and local color). This is not just a matter of correct marketing. The government must invest in infrastructure, improve the functioning of the state apparatus, upgrade public transport, impose better hotel standards and eradicate the myopic mentality of the people in the trade. Tourism, like all other professions, depends on hard effort, professionalism, organization, consistency and care. All participants – the State, municipalities, hoteliers, professionals, travel agents and the locals in tourist resorts – must understand that the good times of mass tourism are over. They must adapt to the increased demand for professionalism, infrastructure and services in order to combine the sun, sea, tradition and culture with the quality and the wide range of choices offered by modern Greek life. Only then can we have effective advertising and high tourism expectations.