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Greek Tourism Weighed Down By Uncertainty

“The slander against our country weighs heavily during this particularly sensitive period in which early bookings are in process for this year’s tourism season,” the Hellenic Association of Travel and Tourist Agencies (HATTA) said last month in regards to the violent street protests that took place on 12 February during the voting of an unpopular austerity bill demanded by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The bill, which was the price of a 130 billion euro ($172 billion) EU/IMF bailout that included strict pension and job cuts, was eventually adopted by parliament.

In an official letter to the Culture and Tourism and Citizen Protection ministries, HATTA informed that it received numerous messages of concern from international tourism market representatives about the violent street protests that took place in Athens.

The association demanded explanations in regards to what steps were taken to avoid such extremes in the country’s capital city.

Images of hooded self-styled anarchists battling police, fire set to buildings in downtown Athens, demonstrators hurling broken pieces of marble and molotov cocktails at police and officers chasing demonstrators with tear-gas and flash grenades circulated the globe.

Meanwhile, one day before the riot, protesters from the Greek Communist Party KKE once again trespassed and hung two giant banners from the rock of the Acropolis.

“Were those who trespassed arrested and what steps will be taken to prevent a recurrence of the phenomenon?” the association questioned.

In regards to the 12 February riots that resulted in the looting of 150 shops in the capital and 48 buildings set ablaze, HATTA wondered how the Citizen Protection Ministry had not realized that once again a peaceful demonstration was going to be exploited by the infamous hooded vandals (known in Greece as the “known-unknowns”).

Tourism professionals are now wondering what effect the latest riot would have on early bookings for the 2012 tourism period.

Last month in general was an uncertain period for Greek tourism as bookings for this year’s season appeared somewhat frozen as they were influenced by the overall uncertainty in the economies of Europe, experts told the press.

A second reason was because the international tourism market was waiting on the outcome of the Greek debt-rescheduling negotiations and the private sector involvement plan (PSI).

“The course of this year’s tourism season will be affected by developments in regards to Greece’s stay in the euro, the PSI and the new agreement,” President of the Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises (SETE) Andreas Andreadis had told the Greek press.

Mr. Andreadis noted that a first assessment would be made at the ITB Berlin 2012 (7–11 March) while other factors that would influence Greek tourism were the situation in North Africa, since Egypt continues to face problems, and also the depreciation of the euro against the dollar.

According to SETE’s president, the demand for Greece is lagging behind in the UK, Germany, Spain and Turkey. He added, however, that bookings from Russia, France and Italy were on a better scale while planned flights to Greece this year are slightly up over those carried out compared to last year.

The association released temporary data last month, according to which, the year began on a negative pace for Greek tourism. In January, international arrivals to Greece fell 2.1 percent compared to the same month in 2011. In Athens alone arrivals dropped by 3.4 percent.

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