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Greek Tourism Slows Down From Initial Expectations

Although Greek tourism professionals were optimistic in regards to this year’s season, especially after its impressive opening in April as international arrivals that month reached the rate of 24.04 percent, their initial expectations seem to be falling short in regards to arrivals for the whole year.

According to data compiled by the Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises (SETE) from 13 of Greece’s major airports for the January-May 2011 period, international arrivals to Greece increased by just 4.52 percent, against the expected increase, compared to last year and amounted to 2,405,030 tourists, up from 2,300,959 in 2010.

In May alone arrivals increased by 4.82 percent, which amounted to 1,272,786 tourists.

For some time now Greek tourism professionals had estimated arrivals to increase by a double-digit rate along with a rise in revenue after last year’s eight percent drop.

SETE’s data showed that arrivals at regional airports recorded a major rise during the first five months of the year (Rodos: 36.1 percent, Kos: 27.7 percent and Heraklio: 12.1 percent) as opposed to Athens that recorded a decline in arrivals of 6.7 percent compared to the year before. Other airports that recorded a drop in arrivals were those of Aktion, Preveza (-10.71 percent) and Skiathos (-4.13 percent).

Also, recent data provided by the Hellenic Statistical Authority showed a 20.6 percent drop in turnover for accommodation and food services in the first quarter of 2011 when compared to last year’s corresponding period.

Initial Expectations For Greek Tourism
Before SETE’s data was released to the public, Culture and Tourism Minister Pavlos Geroulanos had told the Greek media “messages we are receiving from early bookings are encouraging.”

In addition, the Greek National Tourism Organization (GNTO) said in late May that there had been a gain in pre-bookings year-on-year during the first five months of 2011.

The Greek culture and tourism minister’s statements coincided with German travel group TUI as early last month the group appeared very pleased with the progress of bookings for Greece.

Speaking to Germany’s international broadcaster Deutsche Welle, TUI’s spokeswoman, Ramona Fet, said the company was pleased with bookings for 2011.

“We have already recorded a double-digit increase compared to last year’s bookings to Greece,” Ms. Fet said.

“Greece is recovering and of course benefiting from the high consumption and general increased demand for vacation packages for the current year,” she said.

The culture and tourism minister recently said Turkey, Israel, Russia, Serbia and China were making up for Greece’s losses from its two major markets last year, the United Kingdom and Germany. (Greece saw a sharp drop in tourist arrivals last year from Germany—due to negative press reports in the German media—and the UK, which had its own economic crisis to deal with.)

According to a recent survey carried out by Serbia National Association Of Travel Agencies (YUTA), once again this year Greece is the leading destination for 62 percent of Serbian tourists.

Greece is followed by Spain (14 percent), Turkey (11 percent), Egypt (four percent), Montenegro and Italy (three percent), Bulgaria (two percent) and Croatia (one percent).

In regards to the UK and German markets, he said recent figures have shown an increase in bookings this year.

Recent data provided by GNTO Secretary General Yiorgos Koletsos showed that Greece was rising this year to second-top place after Spain as UK tourists’ most-preferred destination. In 2010, Greece ranked sixth. According to the secretary general, the German market was also showing double-digit gains.

The BAT Freizeit-Forschungsinstitut (BAT Leisure Research Institute) said in March that Greece was in the sixth place among the most preferable vacation destinations for Germans.

In regards to arrivals from Greece’s developing markets, press reports said they continue to increase.

“Right now we are focusing on last minute bookings and markets such as China and Israel that contribute to our market in the fall,” the culture and tourism minister said.

Last year the Chinese market alone showed a 75 percent increase in arrivals to Greece, while visa issuance in the country had gone up 50 percent in the first quarter of 2011 compared to 2010.

According to the GNTO, visa applications from Russia to Greece during the January-April 2011 period increased by 91.95 percent.

In 2010 Moscow received 18,693 granted visa applications, while this year, 37,156 visas were granted.

In regards to other markets, the GNTO secretary general told the press the Israeli market was showing a 45 percent gain in terms of departures to Greece, while a 15 percent increase was noticed in arrivals from the Balkan countries.

In regards to theories that the unrest in Egypt and Tunisia was contributing to Greece’s popularity as a tourism destination this year, Thomas Cook’s spokesman, Mathias Brandes, said Greece has in fact benefited from the developments in the North African countries but the country has generally gone well this year.

“The increase in bookings for Greek destinations is attributed more to other factors,” he told the  press.

Mr. Brandes mentioned that Greece has maintained good prices this year and is also one of the favorite destinations of the Germans.

On the same subject, GNTO’s secretary general Mr. Koletsos said the unrest in North Africa possibly had “some effect” on bookings to Greece but he attributed the changes to other developments.

Mr. Koletsos told the press that “hard work” had paid off with the redirection of the GNTO’s tourism promotion campaign towards a more targeted method that focused on new key markets such as Russia and Israel.

According to reports, among the Culture and Tourism Ministry’s future plans is to attract  high-income tourists to Greece.

Through a series of initiatives that include the establishment of high quality tourism accommodation with top-notch facilities and services and the creation of more golf courses, the ministry said it would attempt to attract “VIP” tourists and bring Greece among the world’s top destinations.

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