Greece’s tourism enterprises haven’t felt such negative pressure in 30 years, says the Hellenic Association of Travel & Tourism Agents. “The negative economic effects experienced thus far have reached dangerous proportions for the future of tourism enterprises,” says the association.
Yet, instead of government announcements of measures to confront the problems, as has been done in competing countries, complains the association, we hear positive arrivals data from our government sources continually.
“We have to ask where these data are coming from considering that as far as we know there are not even statistics available from government sources for the year 2002, a year where we all suffered setbacks,” says the association’s president, Yiannis Evangelou. (The latest press release from the Hellenic Tourism Organization says that arrivals from Italy are up for the first half of this year, compared with the same period last year, with Italian arrivals to Crete up 30% and to Rodos up 14%.)
And because the Hellenic Tourism Organization did not advertise and promote our destination during the critical first months of this year, April and May at the latest, he says, we suffer some very unfortunate consequences. “These include severe pressure on Greek tourism product prices, the sale of seat-only tickets on incoming charter flights, hotels and travel agencies being forced to lay off staff, and strong pressure from foreign tour operators for lower prices for 2004.”
He says that to the above you can add what the association calls a total lack of coordination in the use of whatever advertising and promotion funds that are available.
It’s completely unacceptable, he says, that we have no clear picture of what funds are available from government for the overall promotion of Greece as a tourism destination for 2003 and 2004.
Marios Trivizas, president of the Panhellenic Federation of Tourism Enterprises, agrees. He says that so far tourism this year is down some 15% over last year, basically because Greece has not promoted itself abroad. According to Bank of Greece data, earnings from tourism – the country’s biggest currency earner – declined 10.29 percent in the first five months of this year, with a 15.1 percent drop in May.
Mr. Trivizas says that non-EU countries such as Bulgaria and Croatia have seen arrivals increase this year by up to 50% and even EU destinations like France, Italy, Spain and Portugal show possible year-end increases in arrivals of anywhere between 2 and 5%. But these countries, he says, spend money to promote and advertise.
The tourism federation’s president adds that we must bring the private sector and the public sector together in order to cooperate and not lose the opportunities open to us regarding 2004 and the Olympic Games.
Hoteliers are not happy with the government’s handling of the tourism sector either. Georgios Tsakiris, president of the Attica Hoteliers Association, says that up until this moment those in the government that are supposed to deal with tourism on a daily basis are no more than spectators of the tourism sector and not players. For example, he says, they appear to find it impossible to create and implement a short-term or long-term tourism development program.
The obvious conclusion, he says, is that tourism is clearly a private sector concern and the presence of the political sector is simply a typical one with no strategy, no vision and no results.
On a more positive note, the results of the latest World Tourism Organization Barometer report indicate that international tourism might be close to a turning point. Although it says the world economy is still rather weak, a change for the better is expected to take place in the second half of this year. Some 100 tourism experts from al over the world took part in the report and all confirmed the more positive outlook for this period. In particular, they said prospects for Europe show a notable improvement.
The experts based their expectations on a gradual improvement of the economic conditions, the
reduction of uncertainty as a result of the relaxation of international tensions and a waning of the SARS threat. However, they said late reservations and noticeable price sensitivity are expected to persist as main market trends.
Closer to home, Mr. Tsakiris of the Attica Hoteliers’ Association says last-minute buyers may save the summer period and that late fall or early winter we’ll see an influx of arrivals to the area to get ready for the 2004 Games.
But the big question this year is Germany, which sends well over 2.5 million tourists annually to Greece. So far this year domestic tourism in that country is strong and travel to countries outside its borders has dropped 68%, according to the European Tourism Institute. Nevertheless, a Hamburg newspaper found that inhabitants in northern Germany picked Greece as the third preferred country to visit. Unfortunately, direct charters to Greece from Hamburg are few and far between.