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Greece Civil Unrest

Acropolis: Rioters' new target?

Hazel Heyer, eTN Staff Writer  Dec 15, 2008

Vandalism is no good message for change if Greeks are now staging their battles right at the heart of a precious heritage.

As of press time, it's believed that the staff of the Acropolis are going on strike today to protest in a bid to ask for more money, thus making what the situation in Greek direr. This development comes following the pandemonium created by protesters around the parliament area of Athens over a week now.

"The demonstrations taking place in the parliament area are peaceful as they are organized in the memory of the dead boy," said Vicky Karantzavelou, editor for Travel Daily News. "There are riots in the Exarchia area, which is a well known area of anarchists."

It is the hope of many that rioters remain in the area where they have been staging their protest and to not invade the Acropolis, an ancient tourism landmark which is a 5th century-fortified citadel and state sanctuary of the ancient city of Greece’s capital.

Although the capital was calm yesterday after eight days of the worst riots the country has seen in decades, rioters seem relentless and are not backing down on their fight. The violence was sparked by the police killing of a teenager.

According to published reports, traffic has returned to normal in the center of town and open-topped double-decker buses carried tourists around the city's main sights. The cafes in the Thissio area under the Acropolis were busy, and couples took their children for Sunday walks.

However, today could be another day in hell for Athens, with the Acropolis' staff adding their grievances to the mix. Several hundred Greek youths who have protested daily since the teenager’s death have vowed to remain on the streets until their concerns are addressed. The people remain furious over the police, but more importantly over a government already on the defensive over a series of financial scandals, and over economic issues.

According to Karantzavelou, Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis "has ordered the police not to attack and to be passive." And, as for the tourism minister being out of sight, Karantzavelou said, "the tourism minister could not possibly say something different" from what Prime Minister Karamanlis has already said.

Last year in October, the United Nations World Tourism Organization World Tourism Barometer reported that figures for Greece posted higher after the Olympics. It reported the upgraded tourism offers have sustained growth in city and business tourism, including sports and cultural events and fairs. Greek cruise sector also remained strong despite the wildfires they had in the summer, which did little effect to tourism. On a yearly average, Greece attracts over 14 to 15 million visitors - a number higher than its population. Tourism contributes 18 percent to the GDP and more than 10 percent to the overall employment growth. In 2006, travel and tourism demand was expected to have registered $41.9 billion, with a 6.7 percent increase in demand, 0.6 percent market share of total world demand and 6.5 percent industry GDP contribution to total GDP.

This was an improvement from levels surrounding the Olympic years. On the surface, the Games appear to have had a positive impact on city tourism and on the meetings industry in particular, reflecting considerable improvements made to the country’s infrastructure and quality of hotels. However, the European Tour Operators Association (ETOA) argued the so-called “Olympic Effect” or pattern appears to have hit Athens as it had other host countries. The ETOA indicated that countries which host the Olympic Games suffer from a drop in tourism growth in the years surrounding the event –- before and after the games. There is no long-term boost to tourism, as has been widely asserted.

Two years before the Olympics, arrivals in Greece were 8.2 percent up on the previous year but in 2003, numbers fell by 1.5 percent. This decline continued until the first part of 2004. One month before the start of the Games, visitor arrivals were 12 percent down.

Similar “Olympic Effect” was also apparent for four out of the last five Olympics - in Sydney 2000, Atlanta 1996, Barcelona 1992 and Seoul 1988. Talks on Greece hardly making break-even from the event have died down in the last couple of years. Nevertheless, the new minister of tourism still bears the scars of a less-than-profitable exercise in sports tourism.

While it may be too soon to give an analysis of the impact of the recent events on Greece's tourism industry, this much is certain: today’s reality portrayed by scenes in downtown Athens proves that Greece was not built in one day. Surely, it can be destroyed.

Let us just hope that the current Greek administration will not allow any rioting at the Acropolis. As it has the designation as a "World Heritage Site," the Acropolis belongs to the world, not to the Greeks nor its government that has so far chosen to be "passive."

Acropolis:  Rioters' new target?
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