The world’s largest international travel fair, ITB Berlin, continues to break attendance records -the 121,000 visitors were some 10,000 more than last year- and exhibitor records. A total of 10,023 exhibitors from 178 countries and territories, representing every sector of the international tourism industry, attended ITB 2004. “Following ITB Berlin 2004, optimism within the industry is not only undiminished but appears to be stronger than ever,” said the exhibitions chief operating office, Christian Goke. But no such optimism was seen within the Greek pavilion.
While other countries were showing off their tourism wares with events and modern, colorful stands, Greece stood as the world’s poor neighbor with its tired old stands and lack of organization. Although the entrance to the pavilion was upgraded, nothing else appeared to have changed. Even the 2004 stand was the same old design and failed to stir any interest. One Greek exhibitor within the pavilion said that during the five days of the fair only one person who visited his stand displayed enthusiasm for the 2004 Games.
And although private-sector tourism professionals did get a fair amount of work done, they said it was the culmination of the pre-exhibition work done weeks and months prior to the fair. ITB contact simply put the finishing touches to a contract.
Representatives of Greece’s tourism industry who had attended the show said bookings for Greece this year are estimated at 2003 levels, despite the Olympic Games and the absence of the threat of war that affected business in 2003. They insist the country has not committed enough money for promotion of tourism abroad.
From the government’s side, which had just days before been elected, Greek’s new tourism minister, Dimitris Avramopoulos, sent a message to the ITB Berlin tourism exhibition and expressed his regret that he could not be present at the event due to pressing work in Athens following the creation of the new ministry.
The minister said that the new Greek government proceeded in the establishment of the tourism ministry, which he said will pave a unified policy on a long-term basis, in cooperation with the tourism sector.
Mr. Avramopoulos stressed that the development of the tourism sector is one of the top priorities of the New Democracy government. He said he was prepared to exchange views in the near future during a planned meeting of tourism leaders in Athens. Our aim is the best possible cooperation in light of the Olympic Games, but also in the post-Olympic period, he said.
From the side of the Hellenic Tourism Organization, the best it could come up with were tourism figures for 2002. According to these, Greece comes in the 15th place in the world classification of tourism destinations, receiving 14,179,999 tourists in 2002 (National Statistical Service of Greece, provisional data). The major part (94,3%) originated from Europe (68,9% from the EU15). By plane came 73,6% of foreign tourists, by sea 5,6%, by road 20,1% and by train 0,6%.
The total number of nights spent in hotel accommodations by foreign and domestic tourists in 2001 (61,567,209) marked a 0,43% increase compared with 2000. The accommodation capacity of the 8,550 hotels is 330,970 rooms with 628,170 beds (2003). Another 450,000 beds are provided by some 28,000 secondary accommodation units. There are also 352 camping sites with 30,241 pitches and 1,005 bungalows.
Tourism contribution to the GDP is estimated up to 8%. The tourism receipts in 2002 were 10,285 euros.
Employment in the tourism sector is estimated to reach 10% (6.1% direct employment and 3.9% indirect) of the total employment in Greece.
But while statistics on incoming tourism from the Hellenic Tourism Organization are only up until 2002, figures from the organization’s office in Germany shows the total arrival number from Germany to Greece in 2003 reached 2.2 million compared with almost 2.5 million the year before.
On the full European scale, events at the ITB Berlin 2004 indicated that the forecasts by tour operators, airlines, hotels and destinations have been proved correct. There is still a growing interest in travel. At press conferences, meetings and congresses such as the “ITB Tourism Barometer” and the “ITB Berlin Message” the international tourism industry has shown that it believes that the future offers prospects for more growth. This view has been reinforced by the analyses conducted by independent market research organizations.
Compared with last year, the mood among trade visitors with regard to the current situation in the industry is more expectant. Whereas in 2003 almost two thirds viewed the situation negatively, in 2004 the vast majority of trade visitors (81 per cent) believe that the industry will undergo favorable medium-term development.
Among the general public visiting the ITB 2004 fair, over half revealed that they relied on this event to help them with their travel plans and as a source of detailed information about specific destinations. More than four out of every ten members of the public at the fair had come in search of ideas for new destinations. And compared with 2003, many more of them were considering more distant destinations.
The “Cultural Tourism” section of the fair featured 55 main exhibitors and over 300 cultural facilities and institutions. In the words of Kai Geiger, general manager of Art Cities and initiator of this segment of the market: “The ITB 2004 exceeded my most optimistic expectations. All of our exhibitors reported making good contacts and are more than satisfied with events at the fair.” There was also an excellent response to the “Cultural Tourism Forum.”