Greek tourism needs to be on the ball

Vis­i­tor num­bers are mostly en­cour­ag­ing this year but there is more that can be done to boost rev­enues

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY NICK MALKOUTZIS

ANAL­Y­SIS The last time more than 85,000 peo­ple passed through Athens In­ter­na­tional Air­port, many of them were dis­ap­pointed Liver­pool fans nurs­ing sore heads and sun­burned backs.

Un­til July 27 this year, the air­port’s busiest day was May 24, 2007. It was the day af­ter the Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal be­tween AC Mi­lan and Liver­pool in Athens. The Ital­ian side won the game 2-1 but the English fans had a far greater pres­ence in the city, en­joy­ing the weather and quench­ing their thirst.

The fact that this record has been bro­ken is a pos­i­tive sign for Greece’s tourism in­dus­try. In May 2007, more than 60,000 peo­ple at­tended Europe’s top soc­cer match and thou­sands more came to Athens in the hope of find­ing a ticket for the game or just soak­ing up the at­mos­phere. Athens has not held such a ma­jor one-off event since then but on July 27 this year, 85,987 peo­ple passed through the city’s air­port, beat­ing the pre­vi­ous record af­ter more than 10 years by about 700 pas­sen­gers.

A to­tal of 2.37 mil­lion pas­sen­gers passed through Athens air­port in July, which is an in­crease of 7.7 per­cent com­pared to the same month in 2016. The first seven months of the year saw just over 11 mil­lion peo­ple – about 7 mil­lion tak­ing in­ter­na­tional flights – use the air­port. That’s 8.2 per­cent up on the same pe­riod a year ear­lier.

There was a sim­i­lar story at Greece’s re­gional air­ports, 14 of which are now man­aged by the con­sor­tium led by Ger­many’s Fra­port. At the pri­vately run air­ports, pas­sen­ger ar­rivals were up 14.1 per­cent on last year by the end of July.

In con­trast, though, the number of cruise ship pas­sen­gers dis­em­bark­ing at Greek ports was dis­ap­point­ing. Kathimerini re­ported last week that be­tween Jan­uary and July this year, there was a 39.4 per­cent drop in the number of cruise liner pas­sen­gers at Irak­lio, Crete. On Rhodes, ar­rivals were down by 10.9 per­cent in the first six months of the year, drop­ping to 98,127. Santorini has also seen a de­cline.

In­dus­try ex­perts put this de­cline down to the fact that some cruise com­pa­nies have taken Turk­ish des­ti­na­tions off their itin­er­ar­ies due to se­cu­rity con­cerns and Greek ports are also be­ing skipped as the ves­sels head off to other des­ti­na­tions.

How­ever, so far this year the over­all data has been en­cour­ag­ing. Ac­cord­ing to the most re­cent data avail­able from the Bank of Greece, the coun­try’s travel re­ceipts at the end of May stood at 2.07 bil­lion eu­ros for the year, which is a 0.9 per- cent in­crease on the months of 2016.

The slight in­crease in re­ceipts is a re­sult of the uptick in ar­rivals. Be­tween Jan­uary and May, there were 4.58 mil­lion ar­rivals, an in­crease of 2.4 per­cent on the same pe­riod last year. Ar­rivals from Euro­pean Union mem­ber-states im­proved by 6.1 per­cent to 3.01 mil­lion, while those from non-EU coun­tries de­creased by 4 per­cent to 1.57 mil­lion. The big­gest rise, 20.8 per­cent, was in Ger­man vis­i­tors.

The break­down of the travel rev­enues re­vealed that re­ceipts from vis­i­tors who came from EU coun­tries rose by 5.4 per­cent to 1.28 bil­lion, while those from non-EU coun­tries fell by 6.4 per­cent to 688.7 mil­lion. Vis­i­tors from France ac­counted for the big­gest in­crease, which came to 19.4 per­cent.

Over­all for 2017, the Greek Tourism Con­fed­er­a­tion (SETE) is fore­cast­ing an­other record year in terms of ar­rivals. Greece is ex­pected to host about 26 mil­lion peo­ple, which is more than a mil­lion ex­tra tourists (a rise of al­most 5 per­cent) first five than in 2016. Travel re­ceipts are also ex­pected to in­crease by around 1 bil­lion and end up some­where close to 14.5 bil­lion.

How­ever, there is one fig­ure that re­mains a con­cern. De­spite the over­all en­cour­ag­ing pic­ture re­gard­ing ar­rivals, bar the de­cline in cruise pas­sen­gers, Greece still faces the chal­lenge of en­sur­ing that those who do come to visit also spend ac­cord­ingly. The data in­di­cates that al­though Greece is not hav­ing any prob­lems con­vinc­ing peo­ple to visit, it is less suc­cess­ful in get­ting them to part with their money. Be­tween Jan­uary and May this year, the av­er­age ex­pen­di­ture per trip fell by 1.5 per­cent to 430 eu­ros.

A re­cent re­port by Na­tional Bank of Greece (NBG) high­lighted how the coun­try could be get­ting more out of its tourism in­dus­try in terms of rev­enue. Ac­cord­ing to the cal­cu­la­tions done by the bank’s ex­perts, Greece could add an­other 5 bil­lion eu­ros to its tourism tak­ings each year if it makes the nec­es­sary ad­just­ments.

The re­port points out, for in­stance, that the tourism sea­son in Greece is far too short in com­par­i­son with its com­peti­tors. Con­cen­trat­ing only on the June to Septem­ber pe­riod means that over­all ho­tel oc­cu­pancy rates in Greece stand at 27 per­cent com­pared to 40 per­cent at ri­val des­ti­na­tions, ac­cord­ing to NBG’s re­search.

The Na­tional Bank of Greece study also points out that the av­er­age tourist spends close to 70 eu­ros a day in Greece, which is 15 per­cent lower than av­er­age spend­ing in the near­est com­peti­tor coun­try.

One of the rea­sons for this, ac­cord­ing to the re­search, is that there has been a siz­able in­crease in the pro­por­tion of ar­rivals from coun­tries in South­east­ern Europe (from 4 per­cent in 2005 to 11 per­cent in 2016). Vis­i­tors from th­ese coun­tries have less spend­ing power than those from other des­ti­na­tions. Tourists from Asia, North Amer­ica and Rus­sia, for ex­am­ple, spend an av­er­age of be­tween 94 and 99 eu­ros per day.

The re­port also ar­gues that an in­crease in ho­tel in­vest­ment (it sug­gests 1.2 bil­lion eu­ros a year) would al­low Greek hote­liers to at­tract wealth­ier cus­tomers. This means ho­tels could charge more but would also lead to tourists who are able to spend greater amounts vis­it­ing the coun­try, cre­at­ing a pos­i­tive knock-on ef­fect for other busi­nesses linked to ac­com­mo­da­tion.

De­spite the en­cour­ag­ing signs, it is clear that there is still much po­ten­tial for Greek tourism to grow and to be­come more prof­itable. To do this, though, it needs in­vest­ment, am­bi­tion, build­ing on strengths and a clear plan. It is a sim­i­lar for­mula to the one needed to win the Cham­pi­ons League.

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