Greece’s tourism fair Philoxenia 2003, October 30-November 2, arrived and left this year with little fanfare. For the most part, exhibitors simply said that like every other year the exhibition gives us a chance to see some old friends and business acquaintances. But this year, they said it seemed there were fewer exhibitors than last year and much less traffic to the stands.
The fair’s organizer, Helexpo, however, says visitor numbers increased this year by some 10% over last year to reach 15,000 and that the number of exhibitors were about the same as last year with 260 direct exhibitors and 407 indirect exhibitors.
Tourism events at the fair included a presentation of studies for tourism development in the regions of Greece. Five were presented and seven are yet to come. Each analyzed the general tourism situation in each of the five regions and suggested a marketing plan as well as a list of the needs and specialties of each region.
Other events included a conference on new forms of tourism, a conference organized by the Balkan Federation of Travel Agency Associations in cooperation with the Hellenic Association of Travel & Tourism Agents, a presentation by the Panhellenic Federation of Tourism Enterprises, a presentation of the new Athens Convention and Visitors’ Bureau, and a number of press conferences by the country’s tourism leaders.
And while all of these were important in their own right, nothing of consequence was heard concerning the tourism sector in light of the recent announcement by Prime Minister Costas Simitis. He had announced the largest public relations program ever for Greek tourism, which will involve 45 million euros to be spent next year, with another 20 million euros per year for the next four years.
This was one of a number of decisions taken with the aim of increasing tourism’s share of GDP from 15 percent to 17 percent. With these measures, government hopes to raise the number of those employed in the tourism sector by 16 percent above the current 690,000, and increase the number of tourists from 13 million to 20 million per year by 2008. Other measures included streamlining procedures for tourism investment and the carrying out of a major investment program by the state’s Hellenic Tourism Properties company.
“Our country, as we all know, has a strong comparative advantage in the tourism sector,” Prime Minister Costas Simitis said after chairing a three-hour meeting of ministers and aides from 10 ministries. “We have to make these comparative advantages known and we must stress them and work hard in order to increase their yield,” he said.
The prime minister also announced that the Hellenic Tourism Organization will now specialize in marketing, public relations and statistics. A subsidiary will be set up to market Greek tourism, along with private interests.
The Development Ministry’s General Secretariat for Tourism will plot strategy, coordinate with other ministries and conduct policy and inspections.
“The second and, I believe, very important issue is for us to promote more entrepreneurship in the tourism sector,” Mr. Simitis said. This includes lifting a ban on new high-quality tourism investment in areas regarded as saturated, while at the same time closing old units. Also, a number of large investments will be promoted immediately, by simplifying the issuing of permits.
“There are businessmen and business groups who would like to make major investments in Greece and we must make this procedure quicker and more effective,” he said.
“Through tourism, the benefits of the Games will spread to the whole country,” Mr. Simitis said.
And while the prime minister said that the 2004 Olympic Games have presented Greek tourism with a huge challenge and, at the same time, a golden opportunity, little or nothing of this was mentioned during Philoxenia.