Greek Tourism Expects Record-Busting 28 Million Visitors

FILE - Tolo, Argolida, Greece. (Photo by Eurokinissi/Vasilis Papadopoulos)

ATHENS – Greece’s saving grace – tourists – are expected to come in droves this year with the head of the country’s tourism federation expecting another record, surpassing 28 million visitors.

That was the good news given Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras at Maximos Mansion by Greek Tourism Confederation (SETE) President Andreas Andreadis.

Last year’s record had a disappointing side with tourists spending far less per capita on average than before, undercutting some of the glimmer for an industry that brings in as much as 18 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

With Tourism Minister Elena Kountoura also present, Andreadis said the numbers could top 35 million a year by 2021 with the sector helping ameliorate a crushing seven-year-long economic crisis.

Tsipras said he thinks the numbers this year could go past 30 million, the newspaper Kathimerini said although SETE set a lower figure.

The big question for this year is whether the visitors will spend with the Bank of Greece showing a 905-million euro ($976.54 million) drop in tourism revenues in 2016 compared to the year before, putting Greece 26th in that category among 30 European countries.

A catalyst could be whether Tsipras, who has reneged on anti-austerity pledges, goes ahead with a “Special Stayover Levy,” a tourist tax of the kind that sector officials said could drive visitors to other countries instead.

Tsipras and Andreadis said they would soon have a working dinner and invite he heads of the tourism industry’s national associations to give their input.

SETE Vice President Yiannis Retsos cautioned that, “Tourism will be the protagonist for another year,” but added that “its taxpaying capacity is not endless.”

New Democracy tourism spokesman Manos Konsolas said that, “Tourism cannot operate on autopilot, it requires integrated and targeted policies.”