With constant images of protests, strikes and riots that kept tourists away in 2012 having faded away as Greeks have relented to austerity measures, the head of the Athens-Attica Hotels Association said he expects a banner year with as many as 17 million visitors, which would set a record.
“We are facing a more stable future,” Alexandros Vassilikos said at a press conference. “What was happening a year or two ago was that anything in Greece was front page news all day, no matter the scale.”
The strikes and demonstrations led to a 5.5 percent drop in tourists in 2012, to 15.5 million, the country’s statistical agency ELSTAT reported, but advance bookings – especially from the United States which show a 40 percet boost – indicate they are coming back.
Lower crisis prices are helping, although too late to save some 40o hotels that have closed in the Athens area in the last three years since pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions worsened the country’s economy. Vassilikos said some hotels have cut their rates up to 45 percent in a bid to attract more customers.
Tourism is the country’s biggest revenue producer and in 2011 brought in about 16 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP,) which has now fallen to $298.73 billion. 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.
Stable tax policies, simpler visa issuance procedures and organized dissemination of information to visitors are key factors for the sector, which can help drive growth in Greece, Vassilikos 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. Athens officials are also hoping that more people will stay longer in the city instead of using it as a jumping-off point to head to the islands.