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Greece tourism tumbles despite idyllic islands June 21, 2010

Posted by Yilan in EU, Yunanistan.
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Greece’s vital tourism industry is struggling after strikes, Athens demonstrations

Tourism has declined in much of Greece, even on islands such as  Santorini (above) that are far removed from the demonstrations and  unrest that occurred in Athens this spring.

Tourism has declined in much of Greece, even on islands such as Santorini (above) that are far removed from the demonstrations and unrest that occurred in Athens this spring.

An angry tourist, sun hat on head and camera dangling from neck, stood in the middle of the open-top double-decker tour bus, hands outstretched in a ‘thumbs down’ sign.

About two dozen striking Greeks were blocking a main avenue in front of parliament, forcing the driver to maneuver awkwardly and deprive visitors of their drive-by photos.

It’s scenes such as these — road closures, strikes shutting down archaeological sites, the blockading of the main port of Piraeus turning away thousands of cruise passengers — that have horrified people in Greece’s vital tourism industry as the country struggles to emerge from a vicious debt crisis that brought it to the brink of bankruptcy.

“It’s like we’re poking out our own eyes. These things get around, they create a bad image,” said Anna Anifanti, director of the Hellenic Association of Travel and Tourist Agencies, or HATTA. Many hotels are cutting prices to lure tourists.

Greek workers have responded to government-imposed austerity measures that cut salaries and pensions with repeated strikes this spring and occasionally violent demonstrations.

Tourism industry experts say they are currently seeing a drop of about 10-12 percent in bookings compared to 2009, which was itself a poor year. With tourism accounting for about 15.5 percent of gross domestic product, Greece can ill afford to see a prolonged downturn in an industry that provides about one in every five jobs.

With its heady mix of idyllic islands, sparkling beaches, warm weather and rich antiquities, Greece is one of Europe’s top five summer holiday destinations along with Spain, Italy, France and Turkey.

But amid widespread economic gloom, many would-be holidaymakers worldwide have less disposable income and are waiting until the last minute before arranging vacations — whether their destination is Greece or elsewhere — and fueling uncertainty.

Greece’s two main sources of tourists are Germany and Britain, with about 2.3 million Germans and 2.1 million Britons visiting the country last year — and it is these countries that the industry is most concerned about.

Britons have been suffering their own recession, while Germans have been put off by the negative publicity surrounding Greece’s debt crisis, said Giorgos Tsakiris of the Hellenic Chamber of Hotels.

Athens is receiving a euro110 billion package of rescue loans through the European Union to which Germany was the largest — and most reluctant — contributor. Many Germans were fiercely opposed what they saw as a bailout to a profligate country that caused its own problems.

Greece has faced fierce competition for the past decade from cheaper sun-and-sea destinations such as neighboring Turkey. Now fearing a dramatic downturn, some Greek hotels and tour operators dropped their prices in an effort to attract more customers.

“The unfavorable predictions led tour businesses to a timely reduction of their prices by up to 30 percent in order to become more competitive,” said Konstantinos Brentanos, head of Greece’s federation of rented room and apartment businesses.

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