Greek tourism professionals were stunned last month when they were informed that the abolition of the Workers’ Housing Organization was included on an agreement of austerity measures demanded by Greece’s creditors in exchange for a new bailout loan.
The Workers’ Housing Organization provides the annual “Social Tourism Program” to employees in the private sector (also retired employees, the disabled and families with many children) who pay the required contributions. The organization covers part of the cost of holidays of beneficiaries.
“This is an entirely erroneous and misguided decision that was taken without notice or dialogue,” the Panhellenic Federation of Hoteliers said in an announcement once the news on the subject went public.
The “Social Tourism Program” was considered a savior for many Greek small hotels as it secured domestic tourism throughout regions of Greece. Last year domestic tourism in Greece dropped by 20 percent and the first predictions for 2012 refer to a 40 percent decline.
According to reports, the agreement on austerity measures included a two percent cut in contributions to the IKA Social Security Foundation paid by employers. Through that specific two percent contribution, employees could use social tourism vouchers.
The Hellenic Chamber of Hotels said the Workers’ Housing Organization was “the largest tour operator for domestic tourism” and that its abolition would create an irreplaceable void to low income families and small hotels in many destinations on the mainland and islands that heavily rely on social tourism.
The chamber said if the already signed contracts with many small hotels were cancelled then they would be forced to close down.
On its part, the General Pan-Hellenic Federation of Tourism Enterprises (GEPOET) said the organization’s abolishment would be a “major blow to Greece’s travel agencies” that always offer quality tourism services to Greek employees at competitive prices.
The Hellenic Association of Travel and Tourist Agencies (HATTA) said the abolition of the social tourism program was practically “the elimination of domestic tourism.”
Speaking on the subject in Parliament, Labor Minister Yiorgos Koutroumanis underlined that the Workers’ Housing Organization had not closed so far and that the government is also against its closure since it would possibly create a “huge problem” to the funds of the IKA Social Security Foundation.
He stressed that the issue remained open and would be re-examined by early March.