Relative political calm during the summer following June elections eased fears of a Greek exit from the Eurozone enough to help save the tourism season from a catastrophe, with revenues down 5 percent, far less than the 15 percent that was expected, the head of the main tourist association said.
Andreas Andreadis, head of Greek tourism organization SETE, told reporters that even while the new government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras struggles to right the economy and social unrest is starting to build, that the summer was saved from disaster because of a dormant political atmosphere and signs of growing confidence from international lenders.
Tourism accounts for about 16 percent of the country’s dwindling Gross Domestic Product or $230.15 billion, and is critical for any chance of an economic recovery with austerity measures deepening a five-year recession and nearly 24 percent of people out of work. With little manufacturing and a service-driven economy, Greece has to rely on its weather, beaches, history and monuments as drawing cards to bring in revenue.
Tourism revenues are expected to drop slightly to just over 10 billion euros ($12.97 billion) from 10.5 billion euros ($13.6 billion) in 2011, with arrivals expected to reach 16 million this year from a record high of 16.5 million last year.
Greece suffered through two elections, in May and June, creating uncertainty as to whether a new government would try to impose more austerity measures needed to keep Greece in the Eurozone, as Samaras has. Many tourists were scared off but returned later in the summer, and many noted celebrities were spotted around the country, improving its image.
“Fears that Greece would leave the euro were overcome and the question marks vanished,” Andreadis said. “It was also a quiet summer in terms of strikes,” he said. That has already ended, as many sectors, including doctors, judges and teachers have taken to striking and a massive general strike is set for Sept. 26
Before the election, tourism businesses had expected a 10-15 percent revenue drop for 2012 and hoteliers and travel agents reduced prices to attract last-minute bookings. In the first seven months of the year, tourism receipts declined at an annual pace of 7 percent to 4.923 billion euros ($6.38 billion) stoking fears that tourism would add to revenue woes.
Greece also was helped by political risings in North Africa and the country, which for many years had been a favorite of Britons and Germans, is now luring more visitors from eater Europe, which accounts for 17 percent of the arrivals, a trend expected to continue.
Andreas said that social media had helped spread the word that any fears about Greece’s stability were unjustified, that protests and riots were limited to the city’s center, and he predicted a further improvement next year. “We will soon announce our 2013 target and it will be significantly higher,” he said.