Greece’s Record Tourism Country’s Saving Grace

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

ATHENS – It’s no surprise, but record numbers of visitors to Greece will have the biggest impact on the country’s hope of a recovery, analysts at Alpha Bank have reported.

Tourism represents some 18 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – about 29.36 billion euros or $35.02 billion – more than twice that of Greek shipping, the world’s largest, and is the driving revenue engine.

The government is watching the spending numbers after last year’s previous record avalanche of tourists didn’t spend nearly as much as hoped.

But Bank of Greece data made public last week showed that activity in the tourism sector has increased significantly, both as regards the number of arrivals and in terms of tourism revenue, which had fallen last year, Kathimerini said.

The first six months of the year saw a 6.6 percent increase in foreign arrivals compared with the same period of 2016, and against a drop of 1. 6 percent  with the first half of 2015. Arrivals in 2017 hit 7.9 million from January through July compared with 7.5 million in the same period last year.

Tourism revenue, meanwhile, increased by 7.1 percent in the first half of the year compared with a drop of 7.9 percent in the first six months of 2016, hitting 4.1 billion euros.

According to analysts at Alpha Bank, the impact of a particular sector on the economy at large does not only depend on the size of that sector but on the complexity of the services it offers and its interaction with other sectors.

The spending of tourists in Greece last year accounted for 7.5 percent of the country’s GDP, the analysts said.

According to the World Travel & Tourism Council, the Greek tourism sector accounted for 18.6 percent of Greek GDP last year.

In July, Tourism Minister Elena Kountoura told the Panhellenic Exporters Association last week that from January-May there was a big jump in arrivals, revenues and occupancy rates with summer bookings in some areas rising by as much as 70%. Travel receipts grew by 2.4% or €23 million, some $27.4 million, the British newspaper The Guardian reported.

The industry accounted for eight out of 10 new jobs in 2016, vital to offset the European Union’s highest unemployment rate. The 2016 record of 27.5 million visitors could be smashed with the prospect of cracking 30 million this year.