An increase in visitors brings extra euros to Greece's sagging economy.
By Andy Dabilis for Southeast European Times in Athens -- 08/08/13
Vacationers crowd a beach in Sikia on the Chalkidiki peninsula in Greece. Officials expect 17 million visitors to Greece this year as the tourism industry rebounds. [AFP]
Visitors to Greece, who stayed away in droves last year amid protests and nationwide strikes against austerity, are returning in record numbers and giving tourism officials hope that the nation's legendary scenery will help pull the country out of its deep financial hole.
Greece expects its-best ever year with 17 million visitors, benefitting from relative political stability and unrest in competing tourism destinations such as Turkey and Egypt. The Bank of Greece said that in the first five months, tourism revenue soared 38.5 percent and foreign arrivals increased 24 percent.
In April, tourism rose 360 percent compared to the same month in 2012, while in May the jump was 120 percent, and the year seems set to finish with an overall rise of 15 percent to 20 percent.
"It's very positive for the future development of Greece," Giorgos Drakopoulos, general manager of the Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises, told SETimes. "People come for the sun and the sea and the history and the food."
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has made welcoming tourists a key to helping offset a crushing economic crisis, hoping for a boost in an industry that brings in about 18 percent, or 39.4 billion euros, of the country's GDP of 219.94 billion euros.
Playing on its heritage and trying to offset the crisis' image, Greece has given a new slogan to its tourism pitch, calling itself the "World's Richest Country."
Culture Minister Olga Kefaloyianni kicked off the peak season by appealing to Greeks and tourism workers to welcome visitors.
"Let's show our best self. Let's prove our love for this land. Let's remind others how hospitable we are … let's show the treasure of Greece in values, history and memories," she said.
So far, it's working. About 1.5 million tourists will stay on Mykonos by the end of October, and 5,500 workers were employed just for the summer period during a time of record 26.9 percent unemployment, about 64 percent for those younger than 25.
Tourists wave at a passing boat by Melinda beach, near Plomari on the eastern Greek island of Lesvos. [AFP]
Santorini, with its spectacular sunset view around a volcano that is flashed in images around the world, registered a 27.5 percent increase in tourists in June.
"There is no doubt the numbers have increased substantially but we have to wait about the income it brings," Haralambos Tsardinidis, head of the Institute for International Economic Relations in Athens, told SETimes.
"If you go to the islands it's a package deal and people are going to hotels with everything included at cheap prices so they don't have the incentive to spend outside," he added.
As Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras said he's counting on tourism to save Greece and plug a gap of 3.8 billion euros in the 2014 budget, Tsardinidis said, "It will depend on the quality of the services because tourism is word of mouth, but so far it's an absolutely positive sign."
Antonio Troisi, 54, a Milan architect, told SETimes that he comes to Greece as often as he can. "Every time I come here I feel better. You can feel the culture, and we like to go to the sea." He was with his family heading into the new Acropolis Museum, which has become a big draw after being rated one of the best in the world.
There's been an increase in visitors from an array of countries, with big boosts from Austria, Bulgaria, Spain, Russia and Germany, as well as Asia, and Turks drawn to Greek islands off their own coast.
Aggelos Tsakanikas, head of research for the Foundation for Economic and Industrial Research in Athens, said the increase in tourism is welcome, but it won't be enough to save Greece's economy by itself.
"Tourism alone can't save the whole economy," he told SETimes. "It's not the only solution although this summer is going very well."
(Kathimerini, 28/07/13; AFP, 27/07/13; The Guardian, 12/07/13;)
How have your vacation plans been affected by the economy? Share your stories in the comments.