Finance minister: Last-minute tourists key for Greek season


ATHENS – Greece’s tourism performance this year would largely depend on last-minute visitors, the country’s finance minister said in an interview published in a Greek paper on Saturday.

Tourism accounts for nearly a fifth of Greece’s GDP and it is one of the main drivers of the 250 billion euro economy, which may face recession after years of robust growth.

“Because of the economic crisis and the insecurity it causes to households throughout Europe, incoming tourism in Greece will depend on the so-called last-minute visitors,” Finance Minister Yannis Papathanassiou said in an interview published in financial Imerisia newspaper.

Earlier in the month, an industry body said the number of tourist arriving at Greek airports fell 7.3 percent in the first four months of the year.

Papathanassiou said 2009 would still be difficult for tourism as long as recession in Greece’s top markets continued but he hoped the industry would perform much better than previous estimates.

Asked about public finances in the first half of the year, Papathanassiou said that spending was within the government’s target but revenues, especially from VAT, fell behind.

Greece plans to limit spending growth to an annual 9.7 percent this year and cut down on tax evasion to secure a 15 percent rise in revenues.

But the first quarter was disappointing as revenues dropped slightly to 11.014 billion euros and spending rose 25 percent year-on-year to 15.464 billion euros.

Papathanassiou said the government was currently implementing a new system to collect assessed taxes in a bid to raise about 1.8 billion euros by the end of the year.

Struggling with the global economic crisis and a ballooning public debt, Greece wants to bring its deficit down to 3.7 percent of GDP this year from 5 percent in 2008.

The minister also did not rule out selling an additional stake in the country’s largest telecoms operator OTE (OTEr.AT) to Germany’s Deutsche Telekom (DTEGn.DE) within the year.

The German group has a 25 percent stake in OTE with Greece holding another 25 percent.

“It is a possibility outlined in the contract with Deutsche Telekom on OTE,” Papathanassiou said.