Because government employees can not do their job properly and because government is unable or unwilling to give the proper incentive or education to rectify the matter, Greece loses billions of drachmas in precious tourism foreign exchange, says Yiannis Evangelou, president of the Hellenic Association of Travel and Tourism Agents.
And although the problem is evident in each and every division of the public sector that deals with tourism, Mr. Evangelou concentrated on the problems with visas being issued in countries such as Russia and China during a recent press call.
He said delays in issuing visas and the frequent changes in documents required for permits are the main factors that discourage Russian tourists from coming to Greece. In Moscow, he said, there is a lack of employees at the embassy there who are responsible for the issuance of all travel visas to Greece and, perhaps worse still, they are not computerized so as to ease the workload, nor do they have adequate space to work in.
The aforementioned is particularly unfortunate since Greek authorities change visa regulations frequently. This also plays havoc at entrance points to Greece. On more than one occasion, a visitor with all the proper papers has been held at the international airport and sent back to point of origin, said Mr. Evangelou.
“In an attempt to solve or partially solve the problem, we forwarded a set of proposals to government quarters and even said we would pay to have additional employees at the embassy to deal with visas,” said the president, “but to no avail.”
Data released by the Russian Association of Tourism Agencies in Moscow show the number of visas given out over the past four-year period mark a sharp drop from 125,441 in 1997 to almost one half of that number last year when some 67,444 visas were given out to Russians. That 46% decrease compares with an average decrease of about 30% from all other countries of the Shengen agreement.
In all, Greece stands to lose a substantial amount of revenue if the situation continues. The issuance of visas alone, which cost $33 each, could drop some $1.32 million annually just from 40,000 Russian tourists.
The loss in tourism spending is also considered substantial. Russian tourists stay an average of 10 days in Greece at high-end accommodation, and spend more than $1,000 over and aboard the cost of airfare and accommodation, said Markos Vekris of Athens-based Top Level Tours, which specializes in incoming travel from Russia.
Similar problems prevail in the Chinese market. With outbound Chinese tourists currently numbering 10 million and expected to increase to 130,000 million by 2020, it would seem more than essential that Greece clean up its act in order to get a slice of this potentially lucrative market, said Mr. Evangelou.
He explained that the root of the problem lies in the lack of coordination between the foreign, public order and development ministries, with one not knowing measures taken by the other.
The travel agents’ president was equally critical of the high charges levied at the new airport at Spata, which he said is 2.5 times more expensive than Rome and 0.5 percent more costly than Istanbul.
“We have repeatedly warned of the dangers of the exorbitant charges, and especially the impact these have on charter flights (which carry about 9% of all arrivals to the Athens area),” said Mr. Evangelou. He added that smaller countries, such as the Netherlands, have stopped flying charter flights to Athens because of airport costs, while other countries have reduced charter flights.
Furthermore, he said, travel agency facilities, such as free parking for the first hour and a half at the airport and entry cards, which had been promised by the airport operator Athens International Airport have so far failed to materialize.
The association’s president says he plans to forward complaints on the airport to the tour operators’ association in the European Union, as well to the International Air Transport Association, which expects agents to collect airport service charges and, without remuneration, pass these charges on to airlines.
Mr. Evangelou also announced association’s proposal, together with Agricultural Bank, the construction company Attikat and the organization of exhibition organizers, for construction of a conference center at the site of the old Hellenikon airport.