The Greek tourism sector may have been somewhat reluctant in participating in the 27th Philoxenia International Tourism Exhibition due to the country’s financial crisis but according to Deputy Culture and Tourism Minister George Nikitiadis, 2011 could be easily labeled as a “record year” for Greek tourism.
Although the 27th Philoxenia International Tourism Exhibition was cut this year by one day and limited to only two halls due to the low participation of Greek exhibitors, tourism professionals that did show up made attempts to hold meetings with potential clients.
This year’s Philoxenia took place at Helexpo in Thessaloniki 18-20 November in a somewhat concerned climate as just one day before the city’s historic Macedonia Palace hotel announced it was terminating operations at the end of the year.
“The Culture and Tourism Ministry is willing to discuss and contribute in every way it can for the historic hotel Macedonia Palace to continue its operation,” Deputy Culture and Tourism Minister George Nikitiadis said during a press conference for Greek journalists.
In general, the deputy culture and tourism minister gave a zealous speech and underlined that 2011 would be known as a “historical year for Greek tourism” since record increases occurred in both arrivals and tourism revenue.
“International arrivals to Greece will exceed 16.5 million by the end of the year,” the deputy minister assured journalists.
Mr. Nikitiadis underlined that Greece’s tourism development has added 1.5 percent to the country’s GDP with only one third of promotion costs compared to 2009 and he said the increasing trend would continue.
He also added that Greece could receive 20-25 million tourists on an annual basis over the next four years if necessary interventions are implemented, especially in the cruise sector.
Mr. Nikitiadis referred to the decisive contribution of cruise arrivals to Greek tourism, whereas it could add “four percent to the country’s GDP if properly developed.”
The complete lifting of cabotage restrictions will come very soon,” he said but indicated that infrastructure projects such as docks for the disembarking of tourists from cruise ships must be completed as well.
At this point, he added that representatives of cruise companies have expressed an interest to financially contribute to the creation of facilities.
While specifying targets for Greek tourism, Mr. Nikitiadis referred to the creation of 30 golf courses across the country, 25 new resorts and the upgrade of marinas and ports for the development of marine tourism.
He also noted the government’s intention to promote the operation of seaplanes.
During the press conference it was announced that the draft law on rural tourism would soon be tabled, which includes the development of agritourism, wine tourism and fishing tourism. Mr. Nikitiadis also mentioned that an agreement would be signed with Olympic Air, similar to the agreement signed with Aegean Airlines, which will include Greek tourism promotional activities during flights.
In regards to the upward trend from the Russian market, Mr. Nikitiadis assessed that Russian arrivals would rise to one million in 2012 and said an agreement with Russian tour operators was underway that would allow them to operate as visa centers for tourists interested in visiting Greece.
Replying to press questions in regards to the pending payments of foreign tour operators to Greek tourism enterprises due to the crisis, Mr. Nikitiadis assured that the down payments of 2012 would be made promptly.
As for domestic tourism, Mr. Nikitiadis admitted that neither the tourism leadership took the necessary actions for its development nor the market itself.
“We must discover why Greeks only go on holiday in August while Europeans break their holidays and travel also in October and November,” he said.
According to tourism professionals, domestic tourism is expected to plunge by 20 percent this year.
Also present at the press conference was the Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises’ (SETE) president, Andreas Andreadis, who did not appear as enthusiastic as the deputy minister and was cautious about the state of tourism in 2012 due to early bookings figures.
“All political parties accepted our proposals at our recent conference and there is no longer any excuse for our proposals not to be implemented,” he underlined.
Mr. Andreadis reiterated his proposal for the spatosimo airport tax to be reduced by 50 percent.
According to SETE’s president, if the spatosimo were halved at Greek regional airports the Greek state would lose some 60 million euros.
“However, there is a commitment from airlines that if the spatosimo is cut they would bring one million tourists to Greece, which equates to a direct income of at least 180 million euros,” he stressed.
“The state would get back three or five times more in earnings compared to what they would lose if the spatosimo is reduced,” Mr. Andreadis said.
A similar increase has been predicted for Athens International Airport. Due to high costs the airport currently serves 13 million passengers but has the potential for 35 million.
Deputy Minister Nikitiadis agreed that the matter must be looked into and reminded that the ministry was in the process of drafting a study to convey how beneficial it would be for Greek tourism to either abolish or reduce the spatosimo tax. (The specific study was announced by the deputy minister at last year’s World Travel Market in London, UK, and since then was never mentioned again.)