“Greece is back in business… There is great value for money, holiday prices are competitive and we still offer very good quality,” Tourism Minister Olga Kefalogianni recently told the foreign media.
And it would seem that the tourism minister is right since the picture of Greek tourism seemed encouraging, at least on the islands, as Athens continues to count losses.
Last-minute bookings to Greece have picked up significantly ever since the country gained political stability from the 17 June elections. The two national elections in May and June had raised serious concern throughout the globe if Greece would remain in the eurozone thus causing an impact on the country’s tourism industry.
Until early August bookings picked up to a point where tourism professionals forecast that international arrivals may in fact reach the initial target of 16 million by the end of the year after all.
“It now looks very realistic that we will get to 16 million (visitors), if not more,” Andreas Andreadis, president of the Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises (SETE) told the press.
Mr. Andreadis predicted that the sector would collect some 32 billion euros in direct and indirect receipts—the equivalent of about 16.5 percent of the Greek economy.
According to recent data from 15 major Greek airports, in the first seven months of the year, international arrivals to Greece dropped (only) 3.77 percent to 6,336,370 against 6,584,319 last year.
In July alone, arrivals dropped 2.1 percent to 2,282,536 against 2,332,296 the same month in 2011.
During a recent press conference, the president of Greek online booking company Airfasttickets, Nikos Koklonis, said his company recorded a 17 percent increase in bookings following the 17 June elections.
Mr. Koklonis said traditional markets for Greece, such as the French, were moving towards last-minute bookings in search of “good deals.” He held this as proof that the economic crisis has affected all of Europe.
In regards to bookings from Greece’s top source of tourists, the German market, reports initially referred to a 30 percent drop in arrivals from Germany this year. Last year, some 2.2 million German tourists came to Greece for summer vacation.
The German-led coalition of European countries that forced austerity measures on the Greeks in return for a bailout led to negative media coverage on both sides. As a result, it was said that German tourists would avoid Greece this year since they “didn’t feel welcome.”
SETE’s president, Andreas Andreadis, was quick to disagree and said that, according to recent data, the drop of German tourists is expected to be around 10 percent as opposed to the initial 30 percent forecast.
In regards to Greece’s second traditional “good customer,” the UK, bookings are said to be down some nine percent compared to last year.
Tourism experts have said that this year’s answer to the lack of bookings from traditional markets was the increase of reservations from new markets such as Russia, Turkey and Israel.
In 2011 Greece saw a 56 percent increase from the Russian market and a 50 percent increase during the first quarter of 2012, according to data from SETE.
The increase is surely connected to Greece’s decision to facilitate the issuance of visas for Russian citizens.
But that’s not all, as, according to reports in early August, visitors “beyond suspicion” were filling in the gaps in arrivals to Greece. Visitors from Lebanon, Ukraine, Brazil, China, Emirates, Kuwait, South Africa and Columbia were reported to have opted for Greece, mainly for Mykonos, Santorini and Crete.
However, in late July, Trivago hotel search engine released data that showed that although Europeans were basically choosing Europe for their summer vacations, Greece was not among their selections.
“Greece is completely absent from the 10 most popular destinations list,” Trivago said.