Debt-ravaged Greece’s biggest industry is missing income from a group of visitors that spends more than $140 billion a year.
Gay and lesbian tourists, who for decades flocked to the islands of Mykonos and Lesbos, have removed Greece from their list of top destinations because of discrimination, according to surveys by Amsterdam-based OutNow Consulting. The government says it intends to boost tourism and will change the law so Greece follows France and the U.K. in recognizing same-sex partnerships.
“Rights do not cost much in terms of finances, but they do a lot to promote the countries that adopt them,” said Martin Christensen, co-chairman of ILGA-Europe, a Brussels-based rights group. “If Greece opens marriage to same-sex couples, the international media will for once give the country good press that would boost morale and can increase revenue.”
Tourism accounts for one in five jobs and about 16 percent of the Greek economy, which the European Commission forecasts will shrink 3.8 percent this year after a 4.4 percent contraction in 2010. Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos said on Aug. 3 that spending by vacationers will be a main driver of Greece’s return to prosperity.
Spending by non-residents in Greece increased 12.6 percent in the first half of the year compared with the first six months of 2010, the Bank of Greece said Aug. 18. Greece’s debt pile stood at about 43 percent more than the size of the economy.
“Given their propensity to spend a higher share of their wallet on travel and entertainment, then a Greek strategy to appeal to gay visitors is sensible and perhaps timely,” said Bob Witeck, who runs Witeck-Combs Communications, a Washington- based firm advising clients on marketing to gay households.
While the Greek Orthodox church opposes gay marriage, the Justice, Transparency and Human Rights Ministry established in July last year a committee to examine changing existing family law to recognize same-sex civil partnerships.
The group’s report is being studied now and the government aims to introduce legislation allowing the registration of gay relationships, a ministry official said by telephone on Aug. 19, speaking on condition of anonymity in keeping with policy.
The value of the international gay and lesbian travel market in 2010, based on a survey of 18 countries, was $142 billion, according to the OutNow Global LGBT2020 Study of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender travelers.
Greece failed to make the list of the top 10 countries where gay travelers were interested in taking a holiday in the next three years, according to the survey. Athens didn’t appear among the top 20 city destinations.
The U.S., where the District of Columbia and six states, including New York since June, allow same-sex marriage and France, which permits civil unions, and Spain, where gay couples also can marry, were the top three countries. New York, Sydney and Rio de Janeiro, with gay pride events attended by more than 4 million spectators, were the top three cities.
Changing the law to recognize gay and lesbian couples might attract more gay visitors to Greece compared with places such as Turkey, which also doesn’t recognize non-heterosexual relationships, said Gregory Vallianatos, chairman of Greek Helsinki Monitor, the Greek national committee of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights.
Balkans to Nepal
“Allowing same-sex civil partnership in Greece would set the country way above other countries in the Balkans and eastern Mediterranean and would certainly boost gay tourist numbers,” Vallianatos said from his Athens office.
In drafting a new law, Greece would follow tourist destinations as far away as Nepal.
The Supreme Court in the Himalayan country decriminalized homosexuality in 2007, called for the introduction of equal rights for gay and lesbians and asked for the creation of a commission to study same-sex marriages.
“Nepal can earn good income from gay and lesbian visitors as they spend more and travel more frequently than their straight counterparts,” said lawmaker Sunil Babu Pant, who also heads Nepal’s Blue Diamond Society gay rights group. “Gays are also willing to support those countries that are gay-friendly.”
Greece’s Ministry of Tourism and Culture for the first time advertised the Athens Gay Pride this year. The ministry, which didn’t subsidize any of the events, included the “Athens Rainbow Week’’ in its highlights on the web site of the Greek National Tourism Office.
OutNow research based on actual spending shows that in 2006, the first full year of civil partnerships in the U.K., the economy was boosted by 130 million pounds ($212.9 million) from spending on rings, receptions and honeymoons.
It represents “a large and growing pool of new consumer spending which economies such as Greece would do well to position for,” said Ian Johnson, who runs OutNow, which works with the German National Tourism Office, Switzerland Tourism, Madrid Tourism and the Stockholm Visitors Board.
About 75 percent of gay travelers will seek a hotel that welcomes same-sex couples, according to Hannah Burden, spokeswoman for the Thomson, Thomson Cruises and First Choice holiday brands of Tui Travel Plc (TT/), the U.K. majority-owned unit of Germany-based Tui AG (TUI1) and Europe’s largest tour operator.
Thomson last year started marketing vacations for gay and lesbian travelers, including wedding packages to the Spanish island of Ibiza. The company uses the GayComfort Certified accreditation system, developed by OutNow and endorsed by the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association.
“There is definitely a segment in the gay community that spends their vacation money on destinations that are supportive of the community,” said John Tanzella, CEO of the Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based association. Greece “could absolutely increase its revenues,” he said.
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