Greece seems to have reached an economic turning point this summer, as it gears up to welcome a record-breaking rate of tourists after 6 years of recession, according to the Confederation of Greek Tourism Enterprises (SETE).
A journalist for The Guardian, Helena Smith, visited Paros this past month, at the start of tourist season, and recorded seeing a huge influx of tourists to the island.
Smith spoke to the owner of a car rental agency on the island, who told her, "We've ordered 60 new vehicles. It's early days but tourists are pouring in from all over the place. Forget the crisis! I'd say this is one of our best years yet."
This growth in tourism is a welcome sight to Greek citizens, most of who have suffered because of the economic crisis; the nation's wages and pensions have been cut by 40% this past year, and the unemployment rate is at a whopping 26.7%.
However, things are finally beginning to look up. The Confederation of Greek Tourism Enterprises has projected that about 19 million foreign tourists will have visited Greece by the end of the summer, an all time record. Although the number of Greeks who will be able to travel within the country is low – only about 25% of the population is expected to vacation this summer – the growth in foreign visitors is astounding.
Even in Athens, the city that has been hardest hit tourism-wise during the recession, an increase of about 750,000 tourists is projected.
The Chair of the Athens Hoteliers Association, Alexandros Vassilikos, told The Guardian, "We have seen a rise in occupancy rates of 25% in the first five months of this year, which is the highest in Europe. Tourism is the low-hanging fruit of the Greek economy. We have the basic infrastructure. We don't need to make huge investments. It's all there."
Vassilikos believes that in order to extend this boom in tourism, Greece must work on prolonging the season and presenting the best product possible to tourists. Greece sees almost all of its tourists between the months of June and August, and extending the longevity of the tourist season would be extremely helpful to the nation's economy.
The expected rate of tourism over the next 10 years would add an additional 20% to Greece's Gross Domestic Product; in turn, the economic growth would provide up to a million jobs. Tourism's success would also have a beneficial domino effect on other industries: agro-tourism, real estate, infrastructure and transport.
Representatives from the consultancy firm "Rebranding Greece," told The Guardian, "We've spent the past year using the best technology, both in and outside Greece, designing and developing a multi-lingual website that promotes the Greek experience," said Iossif Parsalis, the firm's general manager. "Our priority is to attract high-growth tourism with high-income earners but to do that we need to change perceptions, move away from mass tourism and upgrade the quality of what this country has to offer."
As Greece sets off on what promises to be a successful summer, experts on tourism continue to consider how Greece can best create an updated tourist brand for itself and ensure the industry's economic prosperity.
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