Industry chiefs: Athens unrest having minimal effect on tourism


ATHENS – Greek tourism leaders said Monday that a strike at the Acropolis was more damaging than the urban unrest scarring Athens – with the global economic downturn their greatest fear.

“Let’s be clear, the country is not in the grip of terrorists – so far there has been neither victims nor violence against people,” Argyro Philli, the head of the Greek travel agents association, told AFP.

The country’s second industry after shipping, Greek tourism is seasonal and primarily coastal – well away from the riots directed at police and the right-wing government since 15-year-old Alexis Grigoropoulos was shot dead by police on Dec. 6.

An Athens hoteliers association lists 15 establishments damaged during the protests, most of which have been repaired with state and city aid offsetting cash losses.

“Accelerated departures” have been restricted to small groups or lone travelers, with cancellations limited given the traditionally low pre-Christmas bookings, the head of the Greek tourist employers federation, Nikos Angelopoulos, told daily Kathimerini.

“What’s hurting us worse than anything is the ongoing closure of the Acropolis,” Angelopoulos said.

In a move unrelated to the ongoing protests, culture ministry staff have blocked visitors from accessing one of the wonders of the ancient world for the past 10 days amid demands for increased pay.

More than 2,000 bookings have been canceled there over the past week, local hoteliers chief said Dimitris Mousiadis.

However, a nationwide drop in takings – estimated at 30% as against 2007 – is blamed mainly on economic downturn, with visitors from the U.K., for example, further stretched by the collapse of the pound against the euro.

But there are fears the wave of protests and unrest largely in Athens may compound the effects of the global economic crisis.

Before these events, Greek tourism minister Aris Spiliotopoulos stuck to an upbeat assessment of long-term prospects, saying long-haul travel was worst hit and underlining that the Greek industry revolves mainly around an annual influx of some 5 million near neighbors, largely Germans and Britons.

Tourism revenues for 2007 were pegged at EUR11.5 billion, roughly 18% of Greece’s gross domestic product.