Tourists Shun Greece, Try Turkey August 9, 2010Posted by Yilan in Turkey, Yunanistan.
Tags: Greece, Turkey
In the big-money world of mass tourism, Greece’s woes are proving a boon for Turkey as vacationers vote with their flip-flops to avoid a country in financial crisis.
Greek hotels and tour operators have been slashing prices and scaling back staff in a bid to recoup, after TV images of street riots coupled with a strong euro earlier this year persuaded vacationers to book elsewhere.
That is bad news for Greece, which is already facing declining growth and budget deficits. Tourism makes up about 15% of the country’s gross domestic product, and many economists say this summer’s tourist season will be critical for a weakened economy that is forecast to shrink around 4% this year.
So far, tourism revenues are down almost 9% this year compared with the period in 2009—itself a bad year—according to the latest Bank of Greece data. In May, Athens hoteliers saw some 30,000 cancellations after protests rocked the capital, leaving three bank workers dead.
Meanwhile, just across the Aegean Sea in Greece’s longstanding rival Turkey, 2010 is shaping up as a record year for tourism. Popular beach resorts such as Antalya are straining to cope with overflowing hotels and bars. Revenues in the second quarter for the industry as a whole were up 7.4%, compared with last year, while passenger arrivals in the first half were up by a quarter, according to Turkey’s airport authority.
“For years we’d holiday for two weeks in Greece,” said George Lowe, a retired electrician from Manchester, in northern England, as he browsed souvenir shops with his wife in Antalya’s old town. “This year, with the bad headlines and the expense, it made us want to try somewhere else. Turkey seemed the logical option.”
The good news for Greece is that the worst appears to be over as price cuts and a calmer news cycle persuade late bookers to visit. Tourist arrivals have been rising lately, and for the first half to June are off just 3% from last year’s levels. Preliminary data for July show arrivals in select tourist hot spots, like the islands of Corfu and Rhodes, are up between 6% and 10% compared with last year. Officials hope annual tourism numbers will match 2009’s by the end of the year.
But tourist arrivals don’t tell the whole story. Hotel prices at Greek resorts are down from 20% to 30%. Prices at other tourist-oriented businesses—from rental-car shops to souvenir stands—are also lower. Greeks themselves, hit by government austerity measures, are cutting back.
“If you take into account the roughly 12% revenue decline we saw last year, Greek tourism in these two years has seen a 20% reduction in income. That’s a very big number,” said Andreas Andreadis, president of the Panhellenic Hoteliers Federation.
Greece, with its ancient monuments and sunny Mediterranean climate, is one of the world’s top 20 tourist destinations, attracting some 14.9 million tourists last year.
But vacationers can find the same blue waters, ancient Greek ruins and similar food just a few miles away from many of the Greek islands, in Turkey, which is riding a wave of benign economic news. In 2009, Turkey attracted 27 million tourists, a roughly 3% increase, according to official statistics. This year, Turkey’s economy is forecast to grow 5% to 6%, and its resorts see opportunity in the crisis experienced by such tourism hot spots as Spain and Portugal.
“We have everything the other European resorts have here: sunshine, history and tourism infrastructure, only cheaper,” says Erdem Yilmaz, a restaurant owner in this ancient city’s old town. Antalya was settled by Greeks, Romans and before them Hittites, a civilization that occupied much of modern Turkey.
Tourist associations say Istanbul and smaller cities near the border with Syria also are profiting from a doubling of the number of free-spending tourists from the Arab world, a consequence of Ankara’s warmer relations and newly visa-free regimes with its Middle Eastern neighbors, analysts say.
Also arriving in record numbers are vacationers such as Mr. and Mrs. Lowe from the United Kingdom, who saw the pound plunge against the euro late last year—when many summer bookings are made—causing euro-zone destinations to look expensive and Turkey, by comparison, cheap.
This tourism trend appears to have more than made up for the loss of revenue from Israeli tourists, who are avoiding Turkish resorts in the wake of the clash on board a Gaza-bound aid ship on May 31, in which Israeli commandos shot dead nine activists from Turkey. According to figures posted on Turkey’s Tourism and Culture Ministry website Thursday, only 2,600 Israelis visited Turkey in June, compared with just over 27,000 in June 2009.
Turkey has other challenges to overcome, including a reignited domestic conflict with Kurdish insurgents, who have threatened to hit Turkish urban centers and tourist resorts. That threat hasn’t materialized yet, but the pace of terrorist attacks along Turkey’s borders has risen significantly since the spring.
Tour-business owners are hopeful they can turn Europe’s economic woes into opportunity. Arman Zehnder, a cosmetic surgeon from Bern, Switzerland, agrees. He is planning to open a business in Antalya for the rising number of foreign tourists and wealthy Turks.
“If you look at Spanish resorts there’s declining demand and cosmetic-surgery businesses everywhere,” said Dr. Zehnder, contrasting that with Turkey’s growing economy. “It could be a lucrative market.”