Greece is set for a much-improved summer tourism season in 2011, with figures showing significant improvements in bookings from core and new markets – a result of a revamped marketing strategy, the Greek National Tourism Organisation (GNTO) says.
Speaking at his Athens headquarters on May 31, GNTO secretary-general Georgios Koletsos said that in the first five months of 2011, there had been a gain in pre-bookings year-on-year.
He highlighted two key "source markets" for tourists, the United Kingdom and Germany, with Greece rising this year to second-top place after Spain as UK tourists’ most-preferred destination. In 2010, Greece ranked sixth.
The market in Germany was also showing double-digit gains, according to Koletsos, who said that he preferred to await official statistics before giving precise figures.
There also had been gains in tourists coming to Greece from Israel and Russia.
The Israeli market was showing a gain of 45 per cent in terms of departures with Greece as a destination.
The number of visas issued in Russia for Greece had increased 97 per cent year-on-year, with a 20 per cent increase in the Ukraine.
Across the Balkan countries, there was a 15 per cent increase, with a similar figure for tourists from Italy.
Visa issuance in China had gone up by 50 per cent in the first quarter of 2011, against the 2010 figure.
Asked whether the turbulence in the Middle East and North Africa had contributed to the reported increases in tourism trends towards Greece, Koletsos said that this probably had had "some effect" but he attributed the changes to other developments.
These, he said, were the "hard work" done in marketing in key source markets as well as in Russia and Israel.
Further, the 2010 visitor numbers were hit by negative coverage about Greece, especially in the May-June period when many people make their decisions about where to spend their summer holidays.
Koletsos countered that statistically, Greece was one of the safest places to visit.
Another reason for the improvement this year was that most of continental Europe was in better economic condition, notably Germany, meaning that people were more willing to spend money on travelling.
Returning to the question of instability in the Middle East and North Africa, he said that any short-term benefit would not be worthwhile because it would be better for the region to stabilise, as the troubles there had negative implications for all Mediterranean countries.
The economic crisis in Greece had hit domestic tourism hard, changing the proportions of the domestic and foreign shares of the tourism market.
Tourist resorts in Greece that relied on domestic visitors "are going to face some problems," Koletsos said.
On the positive side, he said, a number of steps had been taken to make Greece’s tourism market more competitive.
The accommodation tax had been reduced by five percentage points to 6.5 per cent, and airport fees and charges had been scrapped at all but one of Greece’s airports. Through discussions with the industry, hotel accommodation prices were down by about five to 10 per cent.
He said that Greece had come up with a more ambitious vision for its market: "We want tourism for all of Greece, all year round, from all over the world".
This meant not only marketing geared to promote a longer season but also building up specialist areas of tourism, such as city breaks, maritime, religious and gastronomic tourism, Koletsos said.
The market strategy had been shifted to be more tailor-made to individual markets and countries. "In the past, we spent a lot of money on television and print advertising with no strategy and no method."
The Greek tourism advertisement budget had been shifted to internet advertising.
At the same, the GNTO had increased the number of "familiarisation trips" bringing selected groups such as travel agents, tour operators and journalists to Greece.
"With much less money, we get a higher return on investment," Koletsos said.
Tourism makes up about 16 to 18 per cent of Greece’s GDP and accounts for a similar figure in the share of national employment.
He said that Greece, against a background of hotels going on sale because of the country’s economic woes and the fact that the country is a globally-known brand, was working on eradicating bureaucratic hurdles to encourage foreign investment in the tourism industry.