A delegation from the Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises (SETE) met with Prime Minister Costas Simitis last month, at his request, where the tourism professionals expressed their belief that the government has failed to take tourism seriously.
At a press call after the meeting, the association’s president, Stavros Andreadis, said he told the prime minister that there is a “lack of a long-term tourism policy with specific goals…and that this is unacceptable for a country that aspires to a leading role on the international tourism stage.”
He then said that arrivals were down by about one percent so far this year, when compared with 2000. “We believe that tourist traffic will remain at the same levels as those of 2000.”
Earlier predictions by government quarters that this trend will be reversed by the end of the year, and that figures will be notably higher in relation to last year, are unlikely to be realized, he added.
About a month previous to the meeting with the prime minister, Development Minister Nikos Christodoulakis had said that based on the forecasts of tour operators and Hellenic Tourism Organization offices abroad arrivals will jump by seven percent, or 800,000 visitors, in 2001 to reach almost 14,000,000.
Unfortunately, said Mr. Andreadis, industry members, market conditions and the results of the first five months of the year cannot back up the state’s estimates. In any case, he said, the government places too much emphasis on arrival figures and not enough on the revenue brought in by the sector.
Members also spelled out a number of complaints that it claimed contributed to the slowdown in tourist growth in the first five months of the year and possibly led to a stagnation for the year overall. These included the lack of a coherent, long-term tourism strategy on the state’s part, red tape that is holding back foreign investments in the sector, and poor advertising are the roots of the problem.
The association also called for a review of the new labor law that would take into account the seasonal nature of tourism enterprises and full deregulation of the construction industry relating to hotels. State inaction in these areas could prove to be costly, as tourism revenues are estimated to contribute between 10 and 18 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, said Mr. Andreadis.
He also reiterated a need to adopt the concept of tourism satellite accounts, a new standard developed by the World Tourism Organization, which creates a universal way to measure tourism statistics and the economic impact of tourism in general.
The association also criticized the steep rates being levied by airport operator Athens International Airport.
“The airport needs to cut tariffs with immediate effect in order to boost the domestic market,” said Mr. Andreadis. The move would also promote Athens as a regional air hub.
The airport, however, denies that high rates are to be blamed for the drop in tourist arrivals while challenging allegations of a slump.
Landing and parking charges amount to just 5-10 percent of an airline’s total costs, the airport operator said. It also noted that handling tariffs, which account for a bigger share, have been reduced by some 25 percent.
“The increased airport rates can hardly have a negative impact on this year’s tourist arrivals as the bulk of reservations were made last year, long before the airport opened for business,” said an airport spokesperson.
Contrary to tourist organizations’ assertions of a decrease in tourist arrivals, itineraries between March 31 to June 15 at the Spata airport actually rose by 2.4 percent. The number of foreign travelers increased by 3.6 percent year-on-year.
The airport manager said the figures were encouraging in view of the two general strikes in April and May, which led to the cancellation of 40 percent of flights on those days. It also pointed to the addition of five new destinations and more flights put on by British Airways, Sabena, Thai Airways, Maersk/SAS, Iberia and Alitalia.
The new Athens international airport at Spata, Eleftherios Venizelos, got to celebrate its first 100 days of operation with a prize. It won the title as the best “tourist” airport in Europe.
An independent study of 15 European airports, the results of which were made public last month, place the new Athens airport on top of the list as the leading tourist establishment in Europe.
Special remarks were made as to impeccable check-in service at the Greek airport as well as the overall organization of the airport, the expertise of the personnel, the unique shops and eating establishments and the airport’s cleanliness.
Commenting on the results, the general manager of International Airport of Athens SA, managers of the Airport, Dr. Matthias Mitscherlich, said the airport is gaining the confidence of travelers day by day. “We are proud,” said Dr. Mitscherlich, “of the positive feedback we have received on our efforts.”