Olympic visitors will face a housing crunch

With most downtown hotel rooms reserved for Olympic officials, regular visitors attending the 2004 Athens Games will have to settle for accommodation in neighboring regions, unless they are willing to pay dear for a hotel room, cruise cabin or a private home in the city. «We estimate demand to be at around 110,000 guests per day. With 25,000 beds free in the greater Athens area and hotel rooms available at an acceptable distance in adjacent regions, demand will be met,» George Tsakiris, president of the Attica hotel association, said. However, according to Greek hotel chamber figures, some 20,000 beds are only available around Attica, a minimum 80 kilometers away. Another 5,000 cabins will be available to visitors in the 10 cruise ships moored in the port of Piraeus during the Games – the 11th, Queen Mary II, is reserved for Olympics officials – according to figures of the organizing committee, Athens 2004. Almost all of the cabins are in the four- and five-star categories. More than 16,000 homeowners have already expressed their interest in renting out their houses to Olympic visitors, according to Aristotelis Karytinos, president of Eurobank Properties, a consortium entrusted with running the Games’ official leasing program. Karytinos did not reveal at what prices the homes would be available. «In any case, we’ve been told our prices are lower than at the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics, which means we’re cheap,» he said. «A home will be available for every pocket,» Vassilis Neiadas, Athens 2004 director general for support functions, said. Neiadas said Greek homeowners will earn a minimum net 100 euros ($114) per day for renting the most basic housing available under the program, offering three rooms accommodating as many guests in a middle-class area. «We will be satisfied if 5,000 private homes are rented,» Karytinos said. «We’re already preparing, but no house has been officially rented yet. The longer it takes for the program to take off, the more the black market is favored,» he added. Real estate agents are teaming up as well to claim a part of the housing pie. They have formed a union and set up a website to that effect, mostly offering homes to high rollers. «The Olympics are a major political, social and sporting event. No Greek homeowner – and particularly his wife – will offer their home to a complete stranger for just 100 euros a day,» said real estate agent Antonis Hanna from Roumeli Estates. Some brokers report that individual homeowners are demanding more than 6,000 euros per month for a middle-upper-class apartment close to the Olympic Stadium. «The Sidney program collapsed… because everybody believed they would become rich. We have got to learn a lesson from that,» Stratos Paradias, president of the Greek Property Owners’ Association, said. «Athens 2004 will let the market determine the prices,» Neiadas said. Price levels are still speculative as long as the total number of visitors arriving in Athens cannot be estimated. «It’s still too early to estimate. Travel agents will give us a first indication between October and December,» he said. An initial Athens 2004 estimate of up to 150,000 overnight stays per day was a «working assumption,» he said, adding that the number could well be «drastically revised upward.» If no recession or major international crisis spoilt the picture, Athens could be swamped by visitors from all the three continents it is wedged against – Africa, Asia and Europe. «The Athens Games are the first Olympics to be easily accessible by car to the citizens from the post-communist countries north of Greece,» Neiadas noted.