Greece Expects Record Tourist Year in 2013 as Strikes Recede

Greece may draw a record number of more than 17 million tourists this year as fear of a euro exit dissipates and a decrease in strikes helps the country’s image abroad, the head of the Athens-Attica Hotels Association said.

“We are facing a more stable future,” Alexandros Vassilikos said at a press conference in Athens late yesterday. “What was happening a year or two ago was that anything in Greece was front page news all day, no matter the scale.”

Strikes and demonstrations to oppose austerity measures demanded by the euro area and International Monetary Fund to keep Greece in the euro area has deterred tourists in recent years. The number of international visits to Greece fell 5.5 percent to 15.5 million in 2012, Hellenic Statistical Authority data released on April 23 showed.

The government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is banking on a tourism revival to help end a sixth year of recession in the country. Tourism accounted for almost 16 percent of Greece’s gross domestic product in 2012, according to the London-based World Travel and Tourism Council.

Back to Athens

Vassilikos said tourists are being drawn back to Athens, the capital, after the crisis lowered the cost of accommodation. In the last three years, 40 hotels in the wider Attica region, which includes Athens and neighboring islands, have closed and hotel prices have dropped about 45 percent on average, he said.

Samaras, who formed a three-party coalition government in June, said earlier this month that he expected to see record revenue from the tourism sector, which accounts for almost one in five jobs, as efforts to overhaul the economy take root.

The economy is set to grow next year by 0.6 percent after another contraction of 4.2 percent this year, according to IMF forecasts.

Greece can attract as much as 11 billion euros ($14.3 billion) in direct revenue from the tourism sector this year, Anastasios Liaskos, the Culture and Tourism Ministry’s general secretary, said in February. Tourism receipts that month rose 12 percent to 125.7 million euros, according to an e-mailed release from the Athens-based Bank of Greece today.

Olympic Complacency

Vassilikos said the country needed to learn from the mistakes of the past to allow the sector to drive growth in Greece, saying governments didn’t build on opportunities such as that provided by the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.

Stable tax policies, simpler visa issuance procedures and organized dissemination of information to visitors are key factors, he said. A poll of 3,000 tourists in Athens last year showed 60 percent were unaware that there are beaches within 30 minutes of the city and 65 percent didn’t know that within an hour you can be on an island, he said.

“We believed the momentum from the Olympics was enough to get us through the next decades and this wasn’t the case,” Vassilikos said.

(Updates with tourism receipts in eighth paragraph.)
    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE