OPINION

Upgrading the tourism sector

There is little doubt Greece’s tourism sector enjoys a comparative advantage. Our country is gifted with unparalleled natural beauty and unique historical monuments that appeal strongly to well-off foreign tourists. It is not a coincidence that Aegean islands such as Santorini and Myconos have long attracted famous and wealthy visitors. But the trend has changed over the past few years. Now, low-income tourists come to Greece. This is the bitter fruit of irresponsible tourism planning. Fortunately, evidence shows that after four years of decline Greece is making both a quantitative and qualitative comeback. There are many reasons for this change. This year, Greece spent much more on promotional campaigns. Last year’s successful Summer Olympics helped reverse the declining tourism of the two years leading to the Games. We should also note Greece remains a safe country at a time when other competitive holiday destinations have become targets of terrorist attacks. Not everything is rosy, however. It is unforgivable that the deputy culture minister waited until August before circulating a memo about the smooth functioning of museums and archaeological sites. Similarly, it is unacceptable that the National Sculpture Gallery is closed at the peak of the tourist season, while the National Gallery is open only in the morning. If these could be called misdemeanors, then the situation on Greece’s ferry lines borders on the criminal. Tourism traffic, particularly around the islands of the eastern Aegean, has suffered a serious blow as access has been made difficult by a number of obstacles. It was only yesterday that the ministers of merchant marine as well as those of Aegean and island policy met to discuss the problems. The tourism sector contributes to national income and employment. Nevertheless, Greece has only partially exploited its comparative advantage. We now have a chance to upgrade our tourism services. Higher advertising spending alone cannot guarantee improved quality. Also, there is no better advertising than tourists leaving Greece with good impressions. This year is a crucial one for Greece. We must break with longstanding taboos and attempt a comprehensive approach to the problems besetting the sector.