Greece’s great hope for its tourism industry is ship-shaped. Given tough economic times, the country’s tourism industry – which adds up to about 18 to 20 per cent of the economy – has taken a blow. But the country has responded by strongly punting the possibilities of cruise tourism, underlining that this offers all the opportunities for which Greece is famous – and as the superstructure to the strategy, luring tourists with city breaks.
Appearing on the BBC on March 21, Greek deputy minister of culture and tourism George Nikitiadis was upbeat about the overall prospects for his country’s tourism industry in summer 2011, saying that there was an increase in bookings from Germany and Russia.
He said that the industry had come up with the best offers in value-for-money terms and, as part of the promotion of cruise ship tourism, had decreased landing fees while lifting cabotage for cruise ships.
There had been discussions with the private sector in improving infrastructure at ports, he said.
In recent weeks, Nikitiadis has had meetings with leading tourism industry players in markets from Russia to the United States.
Greek media reports said that at the Moscow International Travel and Tourism Exhibition, all agents said that they noted an increase in reservations for Greece.
Current circumstances also could mean a boost for Greece as tourists look for alternatives away from the turbulence of North Africa.
News agency AFP quoted Yiannis Papadakis, deputy chairman of the Hellenic association of travel and tourist agencies, as saying that Spain was most likely to follow to gain Egypt’s market, followed by Turkey, but Greece also stood to benefit as there would be a lack of availability.
"Turkey is already between 80 and 85 per cent booked and will be fully booked in about two months," Papadakis told AFP.
Separate reports said that Italian line Costa Cruises had cut Bahrain from its itinerary for the rest of the season, and had stopped sailing to Alexandria in Egypt, replacing the destination with calls in Greece or Israel.
A high-powered Greek delegation went to the tourism and cruise exhibition in Miami earlier in March to speak to major industry players, reportedly including Carnival Cruise Lines, Costa Lines and Royal Caribbean.
Attractions ahoy There is much to be said for the attractions of cruise ship voyages in Greek waters, going by an official presentation.
In 2009, according to European Cruise Council figures, Greece was the number one destination among European cruise passengers, accounting for just more than 20 per cent of the market. Greece was fourth in the number of passengers by country of embarkation in 2009, 503 000 passengers, about a 10.4 per cent share of the total.
Greece boasts a coastline of about 15 000km, the longest of all Mediterranean countries, with about 6000 islands and islets, of which only 227 are inhabited.
Ports of call bring not only the customary diversions to which cruise ship passengers are accustomed, but also the classic legacy of archeological, historical and culinary attractions that make up the legend that is Greece.
Greece has 17 monuments designated by Unesco as part of the world’s cultural heritage, and more than 200 state museums and 107 private museums and collections.
In itself, Greece’s gastronomical delights are recognised by Unesco as an "intangible cultural heritage".
Voted by the Spanish tourism industry as "the best cruise destination for 2010", Greece has seven groups of islands with a wide variety of architectural heritage highlights, gastronomy, traditions and history. Many of Greece’s beaches beat the coveted Blue Flag.
Athens and everywhere Those promoting the Greek capital city as a city break, one of a number being promoted in parallel with the lure of cruise tourism, say that the city is a shopper’s paradise with 2500 shops in the city centre alone.
Athens has 28 five-star hotels, 77 four-star hotels, in all 29 695 beds in Athens, and there are 491 hotels in the Attica region.
Thessaloniki, a familiar destination for many tourists from Bulgaria taking advantage of the swift and well-signposted drive once the border is crossed, is promoted as a cosmopolitan attraction that at the same time offers a number of sites of historical interest, among them the ancient forum, the Triumphal Arch of Galerius, the Rotunda, as well as Byzantine and Ottoman-era points of interest.
Apart from its well-known attractions, such as nearby Halkidiki and Mount Athos, Thessaloniki (which musters 13 five-star hotels, 20 four-star hotels, 139 hotels in all) also offers, for those of the Christian faith, what is described as one of the most remarkable routes in Greece, The Path of Apostle Paul, which is promoted as "an ideal combination of pilgrimage and sightseeing".
Bow wave If there is indeed nothing so much fun as messing about in boats, cruise ship tourism around Greece has the hook of being not only fun but also memorable.
Crete has legends of its own; Heraklion has sights such as Knossos, Phaistos, archeological museums displaying the intriguing artifacts of Minoan civilization; and like Athens and other cities, Heraklion stands as a city break possibility, for its cuisine, its traditional and modern market, historical city centre and its own impressive collection of five- and four-star hotels.
Volos, Greece’s third major port, is close to the archeological sites of Dimini and Sesklo, two of the most important Neolithic settlements in Europe. The Volos Archaeological Museum has significant exhibits, from the Neolithic to the Hellenistic and Roman periods (almost 7 millennia), and was expanded around 2004. Promoted as a "must see" is a model of the Argo ship, honouring the legendary tale of Jason and the Argonauts, from those ancient days when cruises were somewhat less alluring than in the glorious summers of the 21st century.
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