Official reaction to Greece’s tourism sector, in light of the September 11 events, was more than optimistic during this year’s Philoxenia travel fair held last month in Thessaloniki. The country’s new development minister, Akis Tsohatzopoulos, did more than his part by attending almost every side event related to the trade with his usual effervescent personality.
At each event, he insisted the domestic tourism industry would not suffer any major fallout from recent events. He said this is true because the greater part of arrivals to Greece took place prior to September 11, and because the government plans to take to a series of measures for 2002 that will confront the situation head on. (Some 80 percent of scheduled tourist trips occurred before the 11th and overseas markets, like the USA, contribute but a small percentage of total inbound foreign arrivals.)
“We are optimistic that the sector next year will remain at this year’s levels,” he said. To help ensure tourism arrivals do stay at around 13 million, he said that an advertising campaign would be launched next month and that the Hellenic Tourism Organization offices abroad would be fully briefed on how best to boost the country’s image.
At the same time, he said, a long-term strategy for the tourism industry would focus on enhancing quality, taking a value-for-money approach and improving infrastructure. He also expressed his determination to speed up government measures and evaluation processes, among which would be the implementation of the star classification system for hotels.
And during a meet with the national tourism council, which was held in conjunction with Philoxenia, he said human resources would play a central role in this long-term perspective, with the focus on personnel training and job creation. The minister subsequently told the recently formed crisis management committee of the need to implement an aggressive policy with the goal of achieving a positive trade balance.
Also, during his opening speech at Philoxenia, Mr. Tsohatzopoulos announced his intention to create a tourism development council for each of Greece’s provinces and districts. As well, he mentioned the importance of developing ecology tourism for Greece. This will be one of our basic policy choices, he said, when we reexamine the Greek tourism product on a long-term basis. He referred then to the ministry’s need to strengthen both mass and special forms of tourism in light of the 2004 Olympic Games.
Later during the fair, after a meeting of Hellenic Tourism Organization directors from abroad, the minister’s initial predictions for 2002 appear conservative. The directors said more tourists are expected next year from Switzerland, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands and Russia. Inbound traffic from Australia and Austria in 2002 is projected to increase substantially against this year’s figures. And while declines in arrivals are expected from the French and Finnish markets, Greece’s major markets, Germany and the UK, are expected to show about a 5% increase in arrivals. They added, however, that all would depend on a quiet international environment from here on in.
But they said certain tourism sectors may suffer next year in any case – cruises, yachting, incentives and conferences, and up-market hotels in the Athens area. On the more positive side, however, just prior to the recent change in government, Greece’s ex-development minister, Nikos Christodoulakis, said that Greek tourism is in a phase of growth that will allow it to successfully face the repercussions of the crisis resulting from recent events in the U.S.
Factors that justify optimism for Greek tourism, he said, include the drive to implement a quality strategy, conditions of security, a rising standard of living and political stability, and the ongoing modernization of transport infrastructure and improvements in hotel capacity and services.
“We are at a good level and must strive to become better,” he said. “This sector, which is affected by the crisis more directly, contributes 7 percent of GDP, and, therefore, a 15-percent drop in business will deduct a whole percentage point from the gross domestic product.” Mr. Christodoulakis is now the country’s powerful national economy minister.
This year’s tourism trade fair, the 17th, was perhaps one of the best in recent memory. Besides an increase in professional visitors, fair organizer Helexpo increased exhibition space by well over 1,000 square meters to reach 10,350 square meters, compared with 9,128 last year. This allowed for more open space and a cleaner exhibition look, as exhibitors were just slightly more when compared with last year – 658 against 642.
Greek participation decreased by some 6%, while foreign participation increased by 53 to reach 146, or an increase of 57% when compared with last year’s fair. Direct and indirect exhibitors hailed from 30 countries. Country stands totaled 11 with Turkey being the star attraction with a huge, well-designed pavilion.