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Tourism Industry Takes Action At World Tourism Market To End Crisis

Greece’s tourism heads were optimistic after their contacts with UK’s most important tour operators during the International World Tourism Market in London last month. General Tourism Secretary Dimitrios Georgarakis and Hellenic Tourism Organization President Evgenios Yiannakopoulos said everything looked very positive for a good tourism period next year.

World Tourism Market’s opening by Association of British Travel Agents President Stephen Bath was followed by the Greek stand’s opening by the latter and Mr. Yiannakopoulos. On hand were tourism professionals from all over Greece, as well as foreign tour operators. Minister for the Aegean, Nikos Sifounakis awarded Thomson Holidays and Libra tour operators for their interest in the small Aegean islands’ qualitative development and promotion. As well Sunday Times reporter Mark Ottoway was awarded for his long-term interest in Greek tourism and ABTA Magazine journalist Maria Pieri for vigorously promoting Greece’s tourism product. Greek presence at this year’s WTM  was significant with 36 stands and 28 official exhibitors from all over Greece. The Cultural Olympiad’s presence within the Hellenic Tourism Organization’s stand highlighted the Greek participation and attracted foreign visitors’ and reporters’ attention.

Greek tourism holds its position in the British market place, and is considered to be one of the best destinations along with Spain, after the events of 11/9. Turkey, Cyprus, Africa’s Mediterranean countries and especially Egypt are considered as more “dangerous” destinations.

After the September’s 11th terrorist attack, Greek tourist activity and reservations were increased correspondingly by 10% and 30% in the British market place. A 5% overall increase is expected for the year 2001 (2,9 million British tourists) despite the expected “war of prices” against Mediterranean destinations by Muslim countries aiming at their tourist activity’s enhancement.

During the fair, recovery strategies and an assessment of the current situation in tourism were presented in a meeting of the newly created Crisis Committee of the World Tourism Organization (WTO).

The committee included tourism ministers from 21 of the countries most affected by crisis, 15 leaders of private sector tourism companies or associations, and representatives of the European Commission.

“The crisis is a global one, but it must be managed on a local basis,” said Egyptian Tourism Minister Mamdouh El Beltagui, who chairs the committee. “Some destinations are more effected than others and some types of tourism are more affected than others, so specific actions need to be tailored to fit the different situations.”

WTO reported that travel reservations worldwide currently stand 12-15% below the levels of last year this time, as a result of the terrorist attacks, the war in Afghanistan and a global economy that was weakening even before September 11th. The hardest hit destinations are ones dependent on long-haul air travel, places that are heavily reliant on tourists from the United States and countries in the Muslim world, according to the new WTO study Tourism after 11 September 2001: Analysis, remedial actions and prospects.

Participants agreed that the tourism sector has never before experienced a crisis of this magnitude. The immensity of the attacks, the fact that the United States was the target and the uncertainty inherent in terrorism have all combined to put the plans of thousands of travelers on hold.

Before the September 11th attacks, world tourism was on track for an increase of 3-4% in 2001. Now WTO estimates that year-end results will show growth of just 1% in tourist arrivals.

“We expect the industry to begin to comeback as the global economy improves in the second half of 2002, WTO Secretary-General Francesco Frangialli told the committee. “People need to travel for business and people nowadays consider holidays to be more of a necessity than a luxury, so the tourism industry proves time after time to be very resilient one.”

Meanwhile, the crisis is proving to be a catalyst for the industry. Countries around the world have taken fiscal measures to strengthen tourism companies, they are working in closer cooperation with foreign tour operators, and they have initiated new marketing campaigns.

Tourism leaders are also taking advantage of the attention given to the crisis to emphasize how important the industry is to their national economies.

“Tourism was not a target of the September 11th attacks, it is just as safe as before,” said Birger Backman, Secretary-General of the Universal Federation of Travel Agents’ Associations, adding that human contact with travel agents can help travelers overcome lingering fears of flying.

In the conclusions, participants agreed to rename their group the Travel and Tourism Recovery Committee, in acknowledgement of all that is being done throughout the world to rekindle the industry. They agreed to continue to monitor the situation closely and meet again in March at the ITB tourism fair in Berlin.

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