Celebrity-led Tourist Year Eases Greek Recession

Greece’s soaring summer season has given a big bump to the country’s hopes of getting out from under a six-year-long recession with numbers coming in showing tourism revenues as much as 13 percent to a record 13 billion euros, some $17.58 billion.

With tourism being the country’s biggest money-driver, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, struggling to contain growing social unrest over austerity measures being imposed on the orders of international lenders in return for $325 billion in two bailouts, got even better news than he was expecting.

Andreas Andreadis, the head of Greece’s SETE tourism body said in an interview with Reuters that a 10 percent rise in summer pre-bookings from Britain, Greece’s top tourist market along with Germany, was pointed to the increase in arrivals.

Tourism is the biggest cash earner for Greece’s economy, accounting for about 17 percent of its 185 billion-euro economic output. It employs one in five Greeks. The country is also seeing greater numbers of visitors from Eastern Europe and Russia.

“Our initial estimate for 2014 is that we will have more than 18 million arrivals, an all-time record, and a record in revenues, seen at 13 billion euros,” Andreadis said.

Greek hoteliers, restaurant owners and tourism businesses have slashed prices and upgraded their services to lure visitors amid the country’s debilitating debt crisis.

Fewer anti-austerity protests have also helped Greece’s image while Egypt and Turkey – countries that traditionally compete with Greece in tourism – have faced turmoil or riots that have dampened their appeal with visitors.

“For the first time in years, Greece is gaining market share against its main competitors,” Andreadis said, adding the country was on track to meet this year’s target for 11.5 billion euros in tourism revenues and 17 million arrivals.

“For all this to happen, Greece needs to maintain this image of stability and show that it is determined and focused on its main targets. This is key,” he said.

Data released separately on Nov. 19 showed strong spending by foreign visitors helped Greece post a wider current account surplus in September, pushing the cumulative current account balance for the first nine months of the year to a surplus for the first time since Greece joined the euro in 2002.

With domestic demand, investment and industrial output reeling under budget cuts, spending by foreign visitors is becoming the only growth driver for an economy in its sixth year of recession.

Greece’s economy is projected to shrink 4 percent this year and return to very low growth next year. It also expects to post a small primary budget surplus this year, excluding debt servicing outlays, which will allow it to ask for further debt relief from its international lenders.

Tourism receipts rose 17.3 percent year-on-year to 2.07 billion euros in September, generating a current account surplus of 964 million euros, up from 895 million euros in the same month a year ago, the central bank said.

THANKS, HOLLYWOOD

Tourism Minister Olga Kefalogianni said the industry recovered from a difficult 2012 when visitors stayed away in the wake of images of constant protests and riots against austerity. “Tourism to Greece and the brand of Greece showed its resilience, especially the UK market,” Kefalogianni earlier told Travel Weekly.

The Greece: All Time Classic campaign launched by the GNTO a year ago proved “an effective investment,” she said although it still shied away from advertising in the United States, a market critics said it has long taken for granted while virtually ignoring the Diaspora.

“Greece was very good value for money. After several years of people being reluctant to visit, they came back,” she said, adding that despite a record year in 2013 she doesn’t have any increase in funding for marketing.

“It is important we work with our traditional partners and we work more on the web, communicating direct with customers,” she said. But there will be one exception, the US, “which was affected a lot by negative publicity last year,” she said.

A US campaign next year will declare “Greece is in vogue” after it “was packed with celebrities” this summer. Kefalogianni said: “These will be high-standard tourism product, not high-density developments. We want to develop Greece as a golf destination. Golf brings people year round.”

Kefalogianni said the focus for 2014 would be establishing Greece as a year round destination, with Tui already increasing its offering in the shoulder seasons, Travel Mole reported.

It also plans to push niche markets or ‘thematic tourism’ such as medical tourism, golf, yachting, gastronomy, MICE and city breaks. But the idea will be spread through targeted marketing and social media rather than a big ad campaign.

“As a government, we’re trying to be very focused to promote our country but it is also important that the private sector and the regions are becoming more involved. It’s a joint effort.”

She added that celebrities, such as Russell Crowe, Stephen Fry, Jeremy Irons and Sarah Jessica Parker, tweeting about their holidays in Greece were often the best adverts for the destination.