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By Andy Dabilis
The economic crisis will bring more tourists to Greece this season, business owners and experts say
The ongoing economic crisis that has dropped hotel rates and food prices made Greece one of the most attractive destinations for tourists this year. Tourism revenues could hit record highs of as much as 12 billion euros this year, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said.
"Frankly, this is a great time to travel to Greece," travel writer Rick Steves said ahead of the prime tourism season, which begins this summer. "The financial crisis, while making life difficult for most Greeks, is a boon for budget travelers. Hotel prices are down, the normally warm Greek hospitality has ratcheted up a few notches, and roads outside of Athens are essentially traffic free, as higher gas prices have caused locals to cut down on unessential driving."
At least 1 million passengers more than last year are expected to fly to Greece this tourism season, the head of the Association of Hellenic Tourism Enterprises Andreas Andreadis said.
Matt Barrett, a Greek-American who operates one of the most popular a travel websites about Greece, told SETimes that "moderately-priced hotels ... are lowering their rates by 10 to15 percent."
"It's great here," Kate Richardson, 28, a speech therapist from the UK, told SETimes. "The food and wine are cheap and it's got a charming way of life and seems sweet."
"Mouthwatering food, deep-blue water, sunny beaches, striking scenery, and the thrill of connecting with ancient history are all here, waiting for you ... at a cheaper price," Friedemann Schaefer from Germany told SETimes.
The increased number of tourists this year will create additional 50,000 jobs, Labour Minister Yiannis Vroutsis said, a key statistic for a country struggling with unemployment and austerity.
Tourism, which brings in about 15 percent, or 34.4 billion euros, of the country's shrinking GDP, is Greece's biggest revenue engine but has largely been overlooked due to less than inspiring ad campaigns and lacking infrastructure.
For the luxury hotels that front Syntagma Square and the parliament, the scene of constant battles between police and protesters that forced down the shutters and kept out the customers, 2012 was a bad year.
George Dolaptsis, general manager of the NJV Athens Plaza, told SETimes the hotel had only about 45 percent occupancy last year despite dropping its rates to about 130 euros a night.
"Being in the center of the city we had the worst of the crisis [last year]," he said. "But we're going to have a much better year … the rates are more attractive and now we don't have so many problems outside our door."
"I've seen a completely different picture than what they showed on TV," images of riot police battling with Molotov Cocktail-tossing anarchists who infiltrated the crowds of demonstrators, Jose Gurrrotzategui, 28, from Norway told SETimes as he strolled along a pedestrian walkway under the Acropolis. "I love it here, the weather is nice and it's cheap and friendly."
According to various travel agencies' records, 20 percent of tourists are expected from the UK, 15 percent from Germany, France and Scandinavia, and another 20 percent from burgeoning new markets for Greece: Russia, Ukraine, Israel and Turkey.
Tourism bookings from the United States for Greek destinations are showing an increase of up to 40 percent this year compared with 2012, according to the head of the Hellenic-American Tourism Chamber, Giorgos Trivizas.
George Gerasimidis, who has owned the Athens travel agency Fantasy for 30 years, told SETimes that his agency specialises in visitors from the US, Latin America, Australia and Europe and is seeing an across-the-board surge.
"The crisis has created a lot better rates. The only problem is that the VAT is very high, but the hotels have lowered their rates quite a lot," Gerasimidis said.
Greece's biggest lure, its islands, seem poised for a comeback as well, although some will still struggle, he said.
"Demand seems high for Mykonos and Santorini, but islands like Lesvos which has more hotel rooms than they can fill, and in areas like Anaxos, Skala Eressos, Petra and Molyvos, I expect to see very low prices for bargain hunters as the season goes on," he said.
One stumbling block could be a return of protests and strikes. The country's labour union, representing private sector workers has called for a general strike on May 1st. Earlier this year, workers at archeological sites and museums went on periodic strikes, turning tourists away. If that's repeated during the high season in the summer, there are worries it could cut into the sector again.
SE Times, "Greece Expects Record Number of Tourists this Year"
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