The Hellenic Tourism Organization says that infrastructure improvements, mainly the expansion of island airports, have contributed to the increase in tourist arrivals
Greece is in the process of upgrading its tourism facilities with new special interest holidays programs and five-star resorts that will attract top-class tourists year-round. All in an attempt to continue the same steady growth the country has seen in tourism arrivals over the past decade.
Arrivals rose by an about 15% last year to bring to total number to 12.8 million visitors. That compares with some 9.3 million hosted in 1990. The increase focused on the southern islands of Crete with its up and coming eco-tourism and trekking, and on the island of Rodos, a popular destination for British visitors.
Recent studies show that most tourists come on package holidays and fly direct to a resort destination aboard an international charter flight. While the number of arrivals increased by over 30% during the 1990s, the average stay declined in length from over two weeks to about 10 days. Spending by tourists increased only marginally.
For most tourists, Greece is attractive as a comparatively inexpensive sun-and-sea destination, rather than for its classical sites. The number of visitors to the major archaeological sites and museums declined during the 1990s. On the other hand, there were more visitors to archaeological sites on islands that have become tourist destinations.
On the whole, the tourist industry is heavily dependent on visitors from the UK and Germany that together account for about 50% of arrivals. This year arrivals from the UK are expected to take the number one position in arrivals, pushing German arrivals into second spot. They are followed by other western Europeans, mainly French, Scandinavians and Italians. There are comparatively few high-spending U.S and Japanese visitors although this year the numbers appeared to have increased substantially. The number of tourists from the former communist countries of eastern and central Europe continues to increase at a steady pace. The Hellenic Tourism Organization expects arrivals to increase by about 12-15% annually over the next five years, and reach a peak in 2004 when the Olympic Games will be staged in Athens.
The organization says that infrastructure improvements, mainly the expansion of island airports, have contributed to the increase in tourist arrivals. But there are no plans to increase the 20 existing international gateways to Greece. Instead, hydrofoils and fast catamarans will ferry tourists from an island airport hub to smaller islands.
More than 50% of visitors to Greece stay on half-a-dozen resort islands – Crete, Rhodes, Cos, Corfu, Mykonos and Santorini. – with airports equipped to handle international charter flights. In northern Greece, the main destination is the Chalkidiki area.
Greek cruise operators with smaller and older ships than their international competitors, cater for about 250,000 passengers yearly. One new vessel, the world’s fastest cruise ship entered the Greek cruise fleet this year and another is on the way for next season.
Alternative tourism, including ecological and special interest holidays is gaining ground, but remains a small segment of the overall market.
Meanwhile, Greece has an estimated 1.5 million beds in hotels and rooms for rent. Only 30,000 are in luxury and first-class hotels. About one-third of beds in this category are in big hotels in central Athens that cater as much for business travellers as for tourists. At mainland resorts and on the islands, most hotels are still family-owned and operated.
Few international hotel chains have acquired properties in Greece. Only a handful of resorts offer international standard sports facilities, although health and fitness facilities are gradually being introduced. The alternative for wealthy tourists is to charter a yacht for a private Aegean cruise.