If we want the Greek tourism sector to develop at a satisfactory pace, we in the private sector must take it upon ourselves to do so, said speakers at the recent “The Need to Create a Tourism Development Strategy” conference held last month in Athens.
Yiannis Evangelou, president of the Hellenic Association of Travel & Tourism Agents, said government protection must end and in its place we need a completely free market environment in order for our tourism sector to develop. “We must take and accept full responsibility and promote the products that we sell.”
He also urged the creation of a new tourism legislation framework for travel and tourism agents mainly through the creation of a tourism chamber. And he said that the private sector must work closely with the state and vice versa. He cited the example of the recent cooperation between the two to create the Athens Convention and Visitors’ Bureau.
Another point put across by Mr. Evangelou was that our tourism enterprises have not taken advantage of the many and varied government and EU funds that have been available for the private sector. He added that many of these required a minor investment on the part of the tourism business.
Stelios Polykratis, president of the Confederation of Room & Apartment Rental Enterprises, emphasized that his sector has seen a barrage of cancellations from tour operators and that even worse, an unhealthy number of operators have not paid for overnights booked and used during 2003.
In an attempt to open his sector to a wider audience, Mr. Polykratis explained how the confederation created its own Internet site where any of the confederation’s 40,000 small businesses could promote their tourism product. He has also said the confederation has taken the initiative to create tourism packages in cooperation with a number of airlines.
Lukas Douvas, general manager of the Attica Hoteliers’ Association, summarized the radical changes that have taken within the hotel sector in light of the 2004 Games and added that much of the investment was under private initiatives. He said it was now up to government and the private sector to cooperate so as to promote Attica and to create events that would entice visitors.
Georgos Dracopoulos, general manager of the Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises, summarized the association’s most recent study for a tourism strategy up to 2010. The strategy depends on good, clean development legislation for tourism investment and successful 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. With these prerequisites, by 2010 Greece would welcome more than 20 million tourists annually and increase tourism foreign exchange receipts from today’s roughly $9.2 billion to $15 billion. He also said new tourism investment could split up our tourism season more equitable so as less than 40% of all arrivals would visit during the summer peak period instead of today’s more than 50%.
Christos Constandinou of Deliotte & Touche summarized his company’s latest tourism study and hotel benchmark study. He said we should expect more inter-European travel, more frequent travel but a drop in overnights, more individual travel (tailor-made packages created through Internet surfing), and new niche markets because of increased travel by seniors and families.
He added that new tourism destinations are emerging, such as China, and that he forecasts an increase in travel from developing countries, such as China and Russia, which means new growth markets. There is also great tourism potential from eastern European and Middle East countries.
Of particular interest, he said, was that the travel sector is one of the most affected by e-business and thanks to Internet providers there’s a high transparency between the consumer and the immediate supplier, which may create problems for the middle man. “More and more businesses attempt to cut costs and increase revenue by going direct to the consumer,” he said, but the biggest problems for Internet usage remain payment safety and ease of bookings (number of clicks).
Aris Spiliotopoulos, New Democracy Party parliament member, said that his party promises a long-term tourism policy that remains stable no matter how many ministerial or government changes that take place. He added that his party would upgrade the National Tourism Council and bring tourism education into the universities. He also said there would be a tourism ministry with increased responsibilities not only in the tourism sector but also in the transportation, health and culture sectors.