Tourists Shunning Turkey, Egypt Bringing Greece New Record Year

FILE - A great number of visitors attended the archaeological site of the Acropolis, Athens, May 10, 2017. Photo:Eurokinissi/Giannis Panagopoulos

While it’s uncertain yet how much they will spend, some 30 million tourists are expected to flood Greece this year, with a hot summer season underway filling places from islands to the Peloponnese across the country.

Tourism brings in as much as 18 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product of $189.53 billion, or about $34.11 billion but a previous record of visitors in 2016 showed they spent far less than expected, offsetting hopes for a boon during a crushing economic crisis.

Addressing the Panhellenic Exporters Association last week, Tourism Minister Elena Kountoura said that between January and May there had been a big increase in arrivals, revenues and occupancy rates and that summer bookings in some areas had jumped 70 percent.

She said travel receipts during the period rose by 2.4 percent or 23 million euros ($26.18 billion) but the ministry last year said there was an increase too although its figures were disputed by Bank of Greece data.

Greece is trying to develop alternate areas of tourism apart from the islands and beaches and there’s growing interest in areas such as Arcadia in the Peloponnese the British newspaper The Guardian reported in a feature which found people avoiding the terror-stricken and politically-unstable countries of Turkey and Egypt in favor of Greece, despite its crisis and a recent near-record heat wave and 13-day garbage collectors strike.

“Tourism is our life jacket,” Theonimfi Koraki, who opened a boutique hotel in the village of Dimitsana in the Peloponnese last summer told the Guardian.

“The aim now is diversity and drawing out the season all year round. Here in Arcadia the creation of the 75-kilometer-long (46.6 miles) Menalon (walking) trail has been hugely successful for example with foreign tourists. It has greatly helped the development of the region.”

With the exception of shipping, tourism is Greece’s biggest foreign earner, the mainstay of an economy that has otherwise shrunk by 27% since late 2009 when the country’s debt crisis began.

The industry accounted for eight out of 10 new jobs in 2016, helping offset an unemployment rate of 23 percent although it hasn’t helped Greece’s under-25 sector where nearly half still can’t find work.

Last year, the country’s tourism confederation, SETE, announced arrivals of 27.5 million, an all-time high set to be busted this year by a big margin.

Arrivals from the United Kingdom have jumped by 40%, with about 3 million Britons expected. Visitors from Germany and the US have also surged, with 900,000 Americans due to arrive this year – up by nearly 200,000 – thanks in part to Emirates Airways inaugurating direct flights on a daily, all-year-round basis between Athens and Newark, New Jersey.

The American Society of Travel Agents, reflecting the sudden rise in interest, has announced it will host its annual expo in Athens next year.

“We are doing better than our neighbors,” SETE’s new tourism chief, Yiannis Retsos, told the Guardian. “Turkey in particular has been badly hurt. But sooner or later those markets will rebound which is why Greece needs to extend the season, exploit its amazing landscape and diversify beyond the traditional sun and sea product.”