My first priority, Tourism Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos told Greece’s tourism leaders during a meeting last month, is to initiate “fire-fighting” measures to confront the negative arrival figures projected for the industry this year, despite our holding of the Olympic Games in Athens. He then discussed other problems that required immediate attention, and announced his ministry would initiate a long-term strategy for the sector.
Mr. Avramopoulos said he would set 10-year targets for the industry. These would include increasing tourism’s share in the Greek gross domestic product over four years from today’s 18-19 percent to 25 percent. This, he said, would involve cooperation with the country’s various private sector organizations and political parties.
He added that his ministry is studying a priority promotion plan within the main country markets from which Greece draws most of its visitors. It is also preparing a domestic tourism campaign under the slogan “Greeks, get to know your country.”
Concerning the tourism ministry itself, he said that an organizational plan is envisioned that would include two secretariats for specific sectors of the industry. The new structure is to include a department to help investors in the sector by speeding up the processing of investment plans stalled in various government departments. Mr. Avramopoulos and his deputy, Anastassios Liaskos, said they were determined to fight bureaucracy in the sector, which has led several large investment projects to serious delays and even cancellations.
The minister went on to say that another top priority is to prepare for the accommodation of visitors,
especially during the Olympics. He said that in order to improve the level of services offered, and to ensure that there is no negative publicity from instances of price gouging, controls of tourism sector enterprises will intensify and a Standing Crisis Management Committee will be set up. Concrete measures will include a special hotline, in six languages, for tourists.
And in cooperation with tourism industry professionals, the ministry will try to solve major problems that might prevent any smooth functioning of the market.
The new minister also said that the Athens 2004 Olympics has not been adequately advertised. Thus, most of the amount appropriated for advertising campaigns, plus an amount set aside by Hellenic Tourism Organization in the first two months of the year, will be spent advertising the Games, but according to a “new and proper” communications strategy he said he would adopt.
Industry leaders have advised the new minister to use part or all of the income earned by Hellenic Tourism Properties – the Hellenic Tourism Organization subsidiary set up by the previous government to lease state property to private operators, which the current government wants to abolish or turn into part of the state administration – for the campaign to promote tourism through the Athens Olympics.
(Presently, a good portion of tourism advertising revenues come from casino earnings, which are being privatized by Hellenic Tourism Properties. Private sector tourism leaders say this could be expanded to include Hellenic Tourist Properties’ total profits, as all of its activities are exclusively related to tourism and thus Greek tourism would have access to 25 million euros annually for its communication and promotion strategy, four times the current amount.)
Meanwhile, Hellenic Tourism Properties, according to Mr. Avramopoulos, will play a key role in promoting domestic tourism by consulting closely with local authorities about their needs and by paying closer attention to environmental requirements: Hence the property company is being renamed the Tourism Development and Environment Company. He also mentioned a better cooperation with local authorities to promote tourism areas. He said that there is a lot of uncoordinated spending by various authorities and departments, which results in waste and dubious results.
As well, the new minister said he wants to make education and training for tourism sector professions a priority, he wants to promote alternative forms of tourism, and he wants to encourage more foreign investors. He said he plans extensive tours abroad to visit investors and foreign tourism organizations, as well as travel operators.