The number of tourists that entered Greece during the month of August mark an impressive rise against the last few years. This year’s peak travel period was so strong that a good number of hotels around the country were unable to absorb the demand.
The interest shown in Greece is the strongest we have seen in a number of years, said travel professionals, with the latest data showing Greece and Spain to be profiting most from a splurge of last-minute bookings.
As a result, many hotels at major holiday destinations, such as Crete and Rodos, were fully booked for the month, which allowed for smaller hotel units to benefit from the increase in demand. Most were surprised since at the beginning of the tourism season (April-May) booking rates had seemed subdued.
According to major travel agencies, the UK market is displaying a strong last minute trend toward visiting Greece, while other countries, such as Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and France, are also recording increases against the same month last year.
Also positive is the picture for Italian tourists, who like their Greek counterparts tend to take their holidays during the month of August. Italian market sources estimate that the rise in tourists could even exceed 10 percent year-on-year, but that it’s too early to be sure of the numbers as Italians prefer to travel individually rather than in groups.
Industry operators point out that Greece is enjoying the strong advantage of being considered one of the safest destinations at a time when terrorism is on everyone’s mind. Meanwhile, the government’s “stay in Greece” promotion campaign seems to be working well as domestic tourism is also on the rise. But it seems that the existing coastal shipping services have not been able to cope with the demand for some island destinations. For the first time in years, say travel specialists, some bookings at hotels on Aegean islands were canceled this summer because of insufficient ferry services.
Up until now, Greeks, more than other European nationality, prefer to holiday at home even if the prices abroad are more attractive, but this year we are seeing what could be a trend. Because of very low prices, yet with excellent service and tourism products, a good number of Greeks spent their summer vacation at Albanian seaside resorts.
Meanwhile, tourist arrivals to Greece are expected to grow by double digits to over 14 million in 2005, much higher than previous forecasts indicated.
This rise reverses the falling trend, which had prevailed between 2000 and 2003. There had been a slight increase in visitors in 2004 but the figures were disappointing to sector professionals, who had expected a boom thanks to the Athens Olympics.
The successful organization of the Games appears to be the main reason behind the rise in tourist arrivals, confirming predictions of medium- and long-term benefits. Tourism accounts for 20 percent of Greece’s GDP.
The recent attacks at tourist resorts in Turkey and terrorist threats against Italy and Spain appear also to have diverted a small number of tourists to Greece. Tourism industry representatives had estimated early this year that the number of arrivals would rise by 5-6 percent. A recent study by the National Bank of Greece had forecast a 7.5 percent increase, attributing it to a better marketing campaign by the state, along with the 2004 Games’ impact.
The marketing campaign for the 2005 season was increased more than threefold, to 31 million euros, over that for 2004, when only 9 million was spent despite that being the year of the Olympics. More importantly, this year’s campaign peaked at a time where most foreign tourists book their vacations, during the winter, and not later in the year, as used to be the case.
For the 2006 season, Greece will spend 37 million euros in advertising.
The campaign is expected to start as early as November and will be conducted in 42 countries, up from 28 last year.
Greece’s confirmation as a safe destination, cemented during the Olympics, has brought U.S. tourists back in droves; in 2004 their numbers had already increased to 430,000 from 293,000 in 2003, a rise of 49 percent; a further 30 percent rise is expected this year.