PHOTO: Sunset from Oia, Santorini in Greece.
Recent financial reports suggest that the Greek economy has begun a gradual recovery.
Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaris recently estimated it will take at least six years to return to pre-crisis levels. That tepidly good financial news stands in stark contrast to the record setting performance of Greek tourism this year.
Greece just closed the books on its most successful October ever with airport arrivals up 21.52 percent over last October, from 697,000 to 847,000. At the World Travel Mart (WTM) in London in November, Marketing Greece (MG) projected that 2013 would bring in a record 17.5 million total arrivals. Through October, Greece had 12 million visitors.
The country’s best year to date was 2008 when 17 million visitors came to the country. In the first eight months of this year, tourism revenues are up 13.7 percent over the first eight months of 2012 and the early bookings for 2014 are up more than 10 percent.
What’s going on?
Greek Tourism Minister, Olga Kefalogianni’s advocacy for more upscale product, less red tape on foreign investment and a longer season is paying dividends. She wants more integrated tourist resorts like Costa Navarino, a year-round golf destination that opened in 2010 in Pylos.
With two golf courses, two five-star Starwood-managed hotels, The Romanos and The Westin, the resort is a far cry from the classic B&B with taverna of yesteryear.
Speaking in the Greek Parliament earlier this month Kefalogianni said that tourism could lead Greece out of its economic doldrums.
In January, MG, which was formed in April by the Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises (SETE), the Hellenic Chamber of Hotels (HCH) and the Association of Greek Advertising companies (EDEE) and is completely unassociated with the governmental Greek National Tourism Organization (GNTO), will unveil a website, www.discovergreece.com, designed to promote the lesser known parts of Greece.
Speaking at the WTM, MG Chairman Andreas Andreadis endorsed the government’s plan, which seeks to increase Greek arrivals to 22 to 24 million by 2021. The plan wants a per visitor spend averaging 800 Euros and totaling 33 billion Euros in direct spending. At that level tourism would expand from its current 8 percent of GDP to 20 percent.
Greece is breaking away from an over-reliance on the sun and sand segment in order to both stretch seasonality and to go further upmarket. Six themes will be promoted: sun and sea, conference tourism, city breaks, cultural tourism, nautical tourism and health and wellness tourism.
The success of the seasonality strategy can be seen in Crete, which as Greece’s southernmost island is sunny the year round. Arrivals to Crete’s Heraklion Airport grew 18 percent to 2.5 million tourists. Chania Airport, Ryanair’s Cretan hub reported a 20 percent increase.
For Greece, with a 28 percent unemployment rate, the stakes couldn’t be higher, as rage against austerity restrictions from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund have squeezed hard on the population resulting in strikes, civil unrest and the emergence of extremist political parties. Greek tourism employs 16 percent of all Greek workers, about 800,000 people, that’s a nice beginning.