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Unrestrained Optimism For Greek Tourism

If anything was crystal clear at the last month’s Destination Greece conference organized by the British Hellenic Chamber of Commerce, it was that Greece has a fantastic opportunity to develop its tourism sector. All that’s needed is the decision.

Foreign speakers in particular stressed there are fabulous opportunities here that can be taken advantage of, but it’s critical that this be done carefully and under strict professional management criteria. “Greece as a destination has a very bright future,” said one of the speakers from the UK, “if it makes the right decisions. Do it right and then shout it out to the world.” (He referred to recent improvements in the country’s quality products that have not been promoted.)

Development Minister Nikos Christodoulakis took a different path to the same destination when he spoke during the conference’s official dinner: “Greece is well prepared, Greek tourism will overcome and benefit from the present international crisis.”

There was another underlying message continually voiced during the conference, as well, and that was the need for cooperation from everyone everywhere in the sector.

In particular, however, speakers stressed the need for the public and private sector to get together and concentrate on what they can do to help Greek tourism reach or even come close to its true potential as a destination.

Speakers from the UK made it abundantly clear that they referred to cooperation, planning and action, not quick, onetime subsidies to particular sectors. “If tourism does well, automatically, we’ll all do well,” they said.

Meanwhile, official and unofficial announcements heard during the conference included: a significant cut soon in airport tax (spatossimo) and airport landing and parking charges; arrivals from the UK to Greece will increase again next year by some 8%;

Hellenic Tourism Properties heads for a stock market listing before the close of the first half of next year; plans for the new congress center at Hellenikon get underway next month with the publication of a tender for expression of interest;

A similar tender before the end of this month for the privatization/lease of the Rodos golf course and a call for bids to construct a Greek mythology park an environment educational park at Anavyssos, south of Athens; and expect an unexpected turn of events regarding the sale of Olympic Airways.

Back to the conference, most speakers, and there were dozens, were particularly candid in their enthusiasm for the future of Greek tourism, many also laid out some positive ideas and actions. For example, Dimitris Georgarakis, secretary general for tourism under the development ministry, said the advertising and promotion of Greece as a tourism destination, especially in Britain, would be intense in the next months.

Stavros Andreadis, president of the Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises (SETE), said the upcoming government reshuffle and the present situation marks an opportune time to create a strong tourism ministry that would formulate for once and for all a long-term tourism policy that would be followed.

Yiannis Evangelou, president of the Hellenic Association of Travel & Tourism Agencies (HATTA) said he expected only long haul travel to suffer, but urged Greek travel agents and tour operators to deeply research and find areas where enticing tourism packages could be created and then promoted to the international market.

Michael Ghiolman of Ghiolman Yachts-Travel-Aviation stressed the need for international partnerships so Greece could increase its product variety and better promote those already has but that are not known to the wider European travel sector.

Hans W. Olbertz, regional and general manager of the Inter.Continental, the conference venue, said Greece is a year-round destination and should be promoted as such, even now. He said conference and business tourism, if not strongly promoted now, will see a major downturn until the year 2004 as these events are planned two years in advance.

Abhi Dighe, director of Kosmar Travel in the UK, said Greece has a very positive future but it must embrace the many positive points it enjoys and make correct development changes. He urged Greece to pay heavy attention to the environment, pay more attention to the needs of family travel, and promote the many increases in product quality.

Trevor Ward, joint managing director of UK’s Tri Hospitality, reminded that the market adjusts quickly and that tourists are very resilient. He suggested that business travel would pick up quickly because there is no way you can get business through video conferencing and the like.

Professor John Swarbrooke of Sheffield Hall University said Greece is unique and should stay unique. Keep Greece a very special place by protecting its traditional culture and environment, he said, and market two stories: Greece today and Greece yesterday. He added that museums here are greatly improved and a joy to visit, but that sites (just old rocks to most of us) do not stimulate the visitor, which is a great loss to both Greece and the visitor.

Irene Watson, joint president of the British Hellenic Chamber of Commerce, closed the conference. She said Britain has a great interest in Greece’s tourism development, which is one of the reasons this is the second time it has organized a tourism conference and why it will do so again next year.

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