Greece’s fi­nan­cial cri­sis and crime prob­lem plague cen­tral Athens ho­tels

More than 40 units in the cap­i­tal have been forced to close down in past three years alone

Kathimerini English - - Front Page - BY COSTAS ONISHENKO

The large en­trance of the Solo­mou Ho­tel on the cen­tral Athens street of the same name is dimly lit. The ta­bles in the restau­rant are clean, but empty. On one wall, a large mu­ral of Athena flanked by two col­umns is kitsch but ap­par­ently the guests like it.

“Well, they used to like it,” says ho­tel owner Yian­nis Grap­sas. “We don’t get tourists any­more.”

All of the rooms in the Solo­mou have been closed off, their elec­tric­ity and water sup­plies dis­con­nected.

“I’d have to see what I could do if some­one should come in ask­ing for a room,” Grap­sas tells Kathimerini.

A man walks into the ho­tel, a mid­dleaged Greek who looks some­what fraz­zled.

“How much would your cheap­est room cost for a month?” he asks the hote­lier, only to be told that none is avail­able.

“I could open a room up for you, but I can’t com­mit to a whole month be­cause the ho­tel may close down any day now,” Grap­sas tells the po­ten­tial client. “It’s not be­cause I’m bored sit­ting here all by my­self all day, but be­cause I haven’t paid the elec­tric­ity bill and may be cut off.”

Grap­sas has al­ready let go of his staff, ex­plain­ing that his son used to come in for a few hours a day to help out. “It was point­less though. He stopped coming here and took a job as a cab driver. He’s not mak­ing any money there ei­ther, but at least he’s do­ing some­thing,” Grap­sas says.

The 41 ho­tels that have been forced to close down in the past three years in cri­sis-hit Athens are not just a num­ber; they rep­re­sent 41 sto­ries of busi­ness­peo­ple strug­gling to sur­vive – and fail­ing – and of hun­dreds of em­ploy­ees left out of work.

The rea­son why busi­ness for ho­tels in the cap­i­tal is go­ing from bad to worse, ac­cord­ing to the head of the Hel­lenic Cham­ber of Ho­tels, Gior­gos Tsakiris, is not just the cri­sis, but also the ris­ing cost

All of the rooms in the Solo­mou Ho­tel in cen­tral Athens have been closed off, their elec­tric­ity and water sup­plies dis­con­nected, owner Yian­nis Grap­sas said in a re­cent in­ter­view. of air­line tick­ets to Greece (Athens In­ter­na­tional Air­port is con­sid­ered an ex­pen­sive air­port by car­ri­ers) and the poor im­age of the city.

“We need some kind of co­or­di­nat­ing body tasked with deal­ing with the city’s prob­lems with­out the ob­sta­cle of ju­ris­dic­tion and red tape. The city needs to be saved, and soon,” says Tsakiris.

The cri­sis aside, many of the ho­tels in Athens that have shut down are vic­tims of ur­ban degra­da­tion and ris­ing crime in the city cen­ter, ac­cord­ing to hote­liers.

“Tourists stay­ing at a ho­tel in the cen­ter want­ing to get to the Na­tional Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Mu­seum or even the Acrop­o­lis Mu­seum have to go through streets that are de­press­ing and dan­ger­ous. They need to cross Omo­nia Square, Patis­sion Street and Tri­tis Septemvriou. Would you pay good money to stay at a place like this?”

Costas Avram­bos has al­ready been forced to close one of his ho­tels in cen­tral Athens and is now work­ing the re­cep­tion desk at a sec­ond unit he owns and is strug­gling to keep open.

“Other hote­liers re­ceive money from their guests. We of­ten do the op­po­site be­cause sev­eral of our guests have been robbed or mugged. So in­stead of tak­ing money from them, we end up giv­ing them money so they can go back home,” says Avram­bos.

Look­ing at the area around the ho­tel, which is on Tri­tis Septemvriou Street, it is easy to see that the owner is not ex­ag­ger­at­ing. Pros­ti­tutes stand on ev­ery cor- ner in the mid­dle of the day, watched by their pimps. There are drug ad­dicts ev­ery­where, many of them in very bad shape. This is cer­tainly no place for a fam­ily va­ca­tion.

Just a few me­ters fur­ther down from the Solo­mou Ho­tel, the sit­u­a­tion is even more dire as it is a no­to­ri­ous han­gout for drug ad­dicts who shoot up in the open, of­ten col­laps­ing on the ground, and get into fights.

Grap­sas and Avram­bos are just two of dozens of hote­liers suf­fer­ing the con­se­quences of the degra­da­tion of cen­tral Athens. Their cri­sis is not just fi­nan­cial. It is a cri­sis of in­ad­e­quacy on the part of the po­lit­i­cal and state lead­er­ship to trans­form Athens into a cap­i­tal of Euro­pean stan­dards.

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