Greece Predicts Drop in Tourism, Forms Regional Marketing Boards
By James Ruggia
August 22, 2012 11:00 PM
After attracting a record 16 million arrivals last year, thanks to lower hotel rates, Greece is looking at a decrease in visitors this year, due mainly to perceptions of political instability from its economic crisis. It’s becoming increasingly clear that when the smoke lifts from the crisis, the tourism industry in Greece will look very different. The latest development is the emergence of regional marketing to fill a gap left by an underfunded Greek National Tourism Organization (GNTO).
Though the GNTO can’t collect statistical data on tourism this year due to austerity budget cuts, Chrysanthos Petsilas, the organization’s director in New York, believes Greece will see a single-digit decrease in visitors. The hardest-hit destination within Greece is Athens, where images of June’s rioting drove European visitors to fly directly to Greek resort islands, bypassing the capital. “Athens is probably down 15 percent,” said Petsilas, “even though there are many bargains to be had. The tour operators are reporting losses from the situation and many of the bargain travelers that Greece is getting are booking on the Internet.”
The government-run GNTO is largely funded by the hotels, casinos and marinas it operates, but this year the government is funding other programs from those funds. “The GNTO gets about 15 million euros now for worldwide promotion,” Petsilas said. “We used to get 30 to 60 million. The federal government is encouraging 13 prefectures or regions in Greece to do some of their own marketing and promotion. So far some have been aggressive while others are just catching on.” Petsilas named Attica (Athens), Crete and the Cycladic Islands as particularly aggressive prefectures.
Statements made by the new Greek Tourism Minister Olga Kefalogianni in Athens suggest a change in direction for Greek marketing. The minister has spoken of more emphasis on up-market attractions such as golf courses and marinas. It’s also believed that Greece’s traditional sun and sand appeal is both vulnerable to changing political winds and less likely to attract the wealthier tourists who come for culture than Greece’s classical antiquities and its heritage as a cradle of Western Civilization.
In April, a group of Greek citizens launched a private initiative promoting Greece as a touristic destination. The promotion included a giant billboard in New York’s Times Square that ran for 30 days. Up Greek Tourism raised $20,000 from private individuals to fund the billboard with about 50 percent of the supporters located outside Greece, including Australia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, France Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Qatar, Russia Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, the U.A.E, the U.K. and the U.S.
It may take that kind of loyalty to bring Greece back to its position as a major tourism player. In a recent speech, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said that the economic crisis had reduced the Greek standard of living by about 35 percent. He estimated the drop would hit 70 percent if the country were to return to the drachma. In an economy where one in five workers rely on tourism, the number of visitors and the revenue they generate are essential conditions on the road ahead.