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Tourism Sector Calls For Abolition Of Airport Tax As Air Fares Rise

High insurance fees and low revenue have forced Greek airlines to increase fares. At the same time, they want major decreases in airport fees and taxes. And so far, they have managed to get all of the tourism-related associations in the private sector behind them in a strong request to abolish the country’s airport tax, or ‘spatossimo.’

The presidents of 12 of the tourism sector’s major associations in a letter to ministers of economy, development and transportation proposed the immediate “elimination of the catastrophic and now useless spatossimo at all Greek airports.”

The tax was levied on airline fares some 10 years ago and the proceeds were to be used for general airport improvements throughout the country and for the building of the new Athens airport at Spata.

“The transfer of the airport to Spata has had an uneven burden on the cost of air transport, particularly at home,” said the letter to the National Economy Minister Yiannos Papantoniou, Development Minister Nikos Christodoulakis, and Transport and Communications Minister Christos Verelis. “This (tax) burden amounts to as much as 40 percent on some domestic routes.”

The letter reminded that “the recent tragic events that have had a global impact on air transport… will have a direct influence on tourism and our economy.”

The letter’s signatories included the presidents of the associations for travel agents, for hoteliers, for passenger shipowners, for air carriers, for airline representatives, for rent-a-car companies, and the chief executive officer of the Federation of Greek Industries.

They said the immediate abolition of the tax would “lessen the economic burden on passengers and costs for companies, thus bolstering business,” and pointed out the danger of the loss of many jobs in the tourism industry generally if steps were not taken.

Meanwhile, Athens International Airport, which expects to see a 20- to 25-percent drop in passenger traffic in the last quarter of the year as a result of the current crisis, denies suggestions that the airport tax has scared off international travelers. It said that the additional cost for European Union passengers, who account for 90 percent of incoming tourists, was only 3 euros. It admitted, however, that the tax burden is greater on domestic travelers but that they benefit from some of the cheapest fares in the European Union.

Nevertheless, so far, new insurance costs now place an extra 1,100-drachma surcharge per customer per flight on Greek carriers. Olympic Airways, Aegean/Cronus and Axon have agreed to pass on the entire charge on to the passenger.

That is on top of Greek airline fares already swollen with charges imposed on every passenger departing from the Athens airport, such as the 8,200 drachmas for the airport tax and the roughly 3,420 drachmas that goes for airport charges. Thus, overall surcharges amount to almost 15,000 drachmas, which is in some cases the full two-way price for travelling a similar distance by ferry, bus or train.

As well, in further their drive to cut costs, airline companies have also urged the government to lean on the Athens International Airport to lower rental and landing fees, which are considered expensive when compared with previous airport charges.

At the old Athens International Airport at Hellenikon, for example, Olympic Airways’ bill was around 2 billion drachmas, while at the new airport at Spata, the bill has rocketed to 24 billion drachmas, according to Olympic’s pilots’ union.

Meanwhile, Transport and Communications Minister Christos Verelis, along with many of his European counterparts, continues to lobby the European Commission to allow member governments to grant emergency subsidies for their airlines.

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