Another Record Greek Tourism Season Looming, 20M Visitors

ATHENS – Greek Prime Minister Antonis said the country will see a second consecutive record-breaking year for tourism as he outlined plans to keep them coming.

Speaking to the 22nd open general assembly of the Greek Tourism Enterprises (SETE), he outlined the government’s strategy plans for boosting tourism and stressed that “The sick residues of the past are over, we are proceeding finally towards a Greece of growth,” the Athens News Agency reported.

Coming off a record 2013 – that followed a disappointing year in which images of strikes, protests and riots against austerity kept people away in droves – Greece’s tourist industry is expected to again bring a bumper crop of visitors.

Samaras told the operators: “Prepare to receive more than 20 million tourists,” and to treat them right because they are bringing in critical cash for a country in the seventh year of a deep recession, but as he said a recovery is on the horizon, except for the 1.4 million people out of work.

He said that tourism constitutes 15 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product of 249.1 billion euros ($345.9 billion) and 8 percent of its indirect contribution to the economy.

Last year, the magnet was an initial infusion of celebrities, particularly to the famed islands of Santorini and Mykonos, which drew a bevy of tourists lured by the country’s natural attractions and history.

Samaras said that tourism can bring in as much as 10 billion euros ($13.88 billion) more over the next five years and 25 billion euros ($34.71 billion) over the next 10 years and create 220,000 jobs.

That would be a springboard for sustaining recovery and creating growth as Greece weans itself off 240 billion euros ($330.7 billion) in loans from the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB).

Greece will not rest on the laurels of last year, he said, adding that the government was proceeding with a plan to restructure and upgrade the sector in order to extend the tourism season and increase per capita tourist spending by attracting higher-income tourists.

He stressed the need to penetrate markets such as Russia and China, where Greece’s share was currently low, and develop organized tourist products such as theme tourism, religious tourism, medical tourism and marine tourism.

Listing measures planned by the government to achieve this goal, Samaras referred to spatial planning issues for Greek beaches and forests, facilitating the issue of licenses and privatization for marinas, lowering  high tourism-related taxes and improving links with Greek destinations, both from within the country and abroad.

He also emphasized plans to upgrade city centers and the seafront of popular cities and towns for tourism, starting with Athens. He said work had already begun and that despite the economic crisis the government would invest half a billion euros on infrastructure for the next six years, while the private sector was expected to invest three billion euros, about $4.16 billion.

“We have a comprehensive plan for what must be done and what it must achieve for the next years. There are 13 actions we are promoting, including a change in the direction of commercial strategy, developing quality infrastructure and increasing investments, boosting cruises and marinas, facilitating visa issue and reduce airport fees,” he said.