The Greek government has been warned that it must invest in promoting its tourist industry – or face further economic decline as holidaymakers turn away from the troubled country.
In an unusual move, the heads of two major British travel industry bodies have written to the Greek prime minister, arguing that ‘immediate action’ is needed to correct the impression that Greece is currently a ‘war zone’ afflicted by financial woes and civil unrest.
Mark Tanzer, chief executive of ABTA – The Travel Association, and Derek Moore of AITO (the Association of Independent Tour Operators), have signed an open letter to Lucas Papademos, asking him to bypass ‘normal monumental government bureaucracy’ and ‘match euro for euro’ the amount that tour operators are prepared to invest in the country this year.
The statement has also been addressed to Evangelos Venizelos, the Finance Minister, and Pavlos Yeroulanous, the Minister of Culture and Tourism.
The plea comes amid concerns that sun-seekers no longer view Greece as a safe destination – and that tour operators will be left with huge numbers of unsold hotel rooms and airline seats as the summer season clicks into gear.
‘Flight and accommodation capacity will be cancelled by UK tour operators because they are simply unable to sell the normal volume of holidays to Greece,’ the letter states.
‘They [operators] will risk their own continued existence if they don’t take such difficult steps immediately.’
The letter also warns that Greece cannot afford a significant slump in its tourist industry.
‘Tourism represents 18 per cent of the country’s gross national product and, as the country’s biggest export, tourism is the key sector of the economy which will be responsible for breaking the downward spiral,’ it adds.
ABTA and AITO blame consumer uncertainty about Greece on recent headline events that have seen the country dependent on European Union bail-outs to bolster its stalling economy – and afflicted by unrest that has seen rioting on the streets of Athens.
‘As a result of constant negative publicity focused on Greece (which consumers see as not just Athens but the islands too), consumers in the UK are choosing alternative destinations in which to holiday in 2012,’ the letter states.
‘Such a large decline in visitors from a major market will further damage recovery of the Greek economy.
‘Action must be taken immediately to unlock funds for the promotion of Greece in the United Kingdom.
‘We ask that the normal, monumental bureaucracy which surrounds Greek governmental procedures is circumvented in this instance so that a positive promotional campaign – pointing out that Greece is safe and that it has so much to offer the holidaymaker – can commence immediately.’
An ABTA spokesperson has underlined the urgency of the situation, arguing that Greece needs ‘to act swiftly’.
‘We have worded the letter in fairly strong terms to make sure that the Greek authorities are fully aware of the negative impact that stories in the UK media about the Greek economic situation and unrest in isolated areas are having on business.
‘The UK travel industry is doing what it can to promote Greece, but it needs the Greek authorities to support this too, and to act swiftly.
‘The reality is that tourist resorts are totally unaffected by the unrest that we have seen in Athens, yet UK holidaymakers are seeing a very distorted picture.’
This is the second time in a month that AITO has felt the need to issue a public statement on Greece.
In February, the organisation issued a strongly worded statement in the wake of Foreign Secretary William Hague’s suggestion that British holidaymakers register with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Locate service if they plan to visit Greece.
‘To say, as was reported yesterday, that Britons may be put at risk if the civil unrest in the country worsens, is alarmist to say the least and very far from reality,’ Mr Moore explained in the statement.
Whether or not the appeal for tourist-industry investment from the Greek government will fall on open ears remains to be seen.
On February 21, Greece was granted a €130bn (£109bn) Eurozone bail-out on the condition that it undertakes strict austerity measures in its public sector.
Jean-Claude Juncker, Prime Minister of Luxembourg and chairman of the eurogroup of finance ministers was unequivocal in outlining Greece’s need for to curb its expenditure.
‘We expect the unprecedented solidarity of Greece’s partners to be matched by a strong commitment by Greek leaders to fully implement their austerity programme,’ he said as the bail-out was rubber-stamped.