Marie Lecocq - 2012-07-20
A trip to the Cyclades, a tour of the legendary archaeological sites of the Peloponnese: haven’t we all dreamt of a holiday in Greece? The turquoise waters of the Aegean Sea seem eager to welcome tourists. It may just the perfect time to go fishing... for good deals.
In the land of the gods of Olympus, given the current economic crisis one wonders if the tourist season isn’t also in danger of becoming a myth. Athens has seen a spectacular drop in the number of visitors: this past spring the city held the sad record of having the lowest hotel occupancy rate amongst all European capitals. Eighteen hotels went under in 2011, and twenty more have locked up since January, including the prestigious Athens Imperial, closed due to a ‘lack of tourism prospects’.
Jorgos, who runs a souvlaki restaurant in the very touristy Monastiraki quarter of Athens, has dealt with a 60% drop in turnover. ‘Most of the people who are jumping ship are Greek,’ he says. ‘Foreign customers are here, but they don’t spend a lot. For example, they’ll buy just one dish and do without drinks.’ In the Cyclades, the ambiance is no more optimistic. Maria runs a clothing boutique in Paros, one of the archipelago’s most popular islands. Even though there are many visitors from France, Germany and Italy, save for supermarkets, the shops are empty. ‘Tourists are on a shoestring budget,’ she says. ‘They rarely dine out or go for drinks. In one year we’ve lost around 70% of our clientele.’
A lack of reactivity on the part of the Greek authorities? According to Leonidas Adonopoulous, who oversees the Ministry of Tourism and Culture’s development and investment sector, ‘The difficulties are of varying kinds. The political context has made it impossible to skilfully manage the tourist season. And the media went and frightened away tourists and tour operators. Everyone’s waiting to see what’s going to happen.’ This wariness has spread to the traditional travel agencies which go so far as to advise against a stay in the capital. Since no official reaction is forthcoming, tourism professionals have responded by finding their own solutions to the crisis. Since the beginning of the year Athens’s Elefthérios-Venizélos airport, for one, has launched Athens Spotlighted, a free discount city card offering a 20% price break in the capital’s museums and discounts at a selection of restaurants and shops. Airport personnel hand them out at the baggage claim area.
As usual, internet travel agencies have reacted the most swiftly by offering all-inclusive holiday packages towards the best-known Greek destinations at cut-rate prices. In traditional travel agencies, packages offered in the 2012 print catalogues are not fundamentally different from those of 2011; the best deals are found by waiting until three weeks before the departure date. After the poor showing of 2011, industry professionals are hard-pressed to lower prices that have already hit rock bottom. On the other hand, says Nikos, who rents yachts on the Ionian island of Lefkada, ‘Businesspeople don’t hesitate to offer a little something extra. A bite to eat with drinks, for example.’ The Greeks may be overwhelmed by current affairs, but their legendary hospitality always merits the journey. So, a good deal at the right time in Greece? Yes, from a financial point of view, if you’re willing to do some hunting. And yes, certainly, from a human point of view. Greece eagerly awaits visitors... with a smile.
Tourism in Greece: www.visitgreece.gr