US Travel Agents in Athens Boost Greece’s Tourism Hopes

(Photo by ICONPRESS/CHRISTOS DOUDOUMIS, FILE).

ATHENS – With the government saying it can’t afford big-budget advertising to lure visitors despite a run of record seasons, the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) held its “Destination Expo” annual convention here to promote Greece as a destination.

Despite the lucrative market in the US, Greece has not pushed for Americans to come although the numbers have grown again despite an eight-year-long economic and austerity crisis and lack of top luxury accommodations.

ASTA president and CEO Zane Kerby welcomed more than 300 travel advisors and 200 industry suppliers and tourism executives for the sold-out three-day trade show, which was inaugurated at the iconic Herod Atticus Odeon at the foot of the Acropolis.

He said that, “While Greece is an ASTA favorite, having hosted the event in 1967, 1987 and now 2018, our research study, How America Travels, shows that 38 percent of American travelers wish to ‘see natural sights’ and another 34 percent of American travelers want to ‘see historic sites’ when they vacation, which this destination (Greece) has the best of both worlds,” the business newspaper Naftemporiki reported.

Greek Tourism Minister Elena Kountoura said “the United States is an important market for us and through our targeted actions we’ve experienced double digit growth in the last three years. About one million Americans now visit Greece (annually), and demand is growing from year to year. We look forward to welcoming many more American travelers as a result of this partnership with ASTA.”

But Greece still hasn’t aggressively marketed itself in the United States, despite a sizeable Diaspora and number of Hellonophiles while other countries who want the same audience have been going after Americans with advertising campaigns.

Despite an onslaught of violent attacks in Athens by anarchists and an epidemic of pickpockets going after tourists on the Metro system,  US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt said the country is safe and hospitable and that the government is trying to expand the tourism season year round and expanding to areas such as medical tourism.

He noted the privatization under a German-Greek consortium of 14 regional airports after the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras reneged on promises to halt the sale of state assets after reneging on vows to reverse austerity.

NOT ENOUGH DONE

A 2017 record tourism draw of 30 million people could be spiked to as many as 40 million a year if there’s more investment in the sector, the head of the Greek Tourism Federation (SETE) Yiannis Retsos said he believes.

FILE – People stand by a giant Greek flag and the ruins of the fifth century B.C. Parthenon temple on the Acropolis hill in Athens, on Thursday, Dec. 28, 2017. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

Greece, despite an eight-year economic and austerity crisis, continues to draw hordes of visitors lured by its legendary history, sun, beaches and islands and as the government is trying to increase the draw to year-round with other fields such as medical tourism.

But Greece, with all those advantages was only the European Union’s sixth-most visited destination in 2016, according to its statistics agency Eurostat, the financial news agency Bloomberg said in a report, based on nights spent by travelers.

Retsos said that could jump markedly if more resources are added and the Radical Left SYRIZA-led coalition – which has just slapped a new overnight stay surtax on rooms – removes obstacles to new capital.

“While having almost 30 million tourists from May to September is a huge number, it could reach 40 million in a nine-month period if the tourism season were extended,” Retsos said in an interview with the agency.

“The bet now is to enrich the tourism product and have added value that will attract not necessarily more, but richer tourists, so we can have more receipts,” while predictions were that the new surtax could instead push visitors to other countries they have shied away from, such as Turkey and North Africa.

Tourism is Greece’s biggest industry, with arrivals rising 10 percent in 2017 from the previous year to 27.2 million and generating revenue of just over 14.5 billion euros ($18 billion), according to Bank of Greece data.

Travel and tourism contributed 32.8 billion euros ($40.24 billion) to Greek economic output in 2016, accounting for 18.6 percent of Greek Gross Domestic Product (GDP) that year, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council. The London-based body expects that figure to rise to 23.8 percent of Greek output in 2027.

In order to increase arrivals to 36 million and revenues to 20 billion euros ($24.53 billion) by 2021, Greece needs investments worth 6 billion euros ($7.36 billion) a year, Retsos said. “While this is a large number, there is foreign interest to invest,” he said, also calling for public investments, the report added.