Greece’s ongoing multi-level clashes over its economic woes have caught the world’s attention anew. The widespread discontent within Greece and within the Eurozone is warranted, but one need not look too far to find that it is not all doom and gloom for the beleaguered country. Greeks can breathe a little better because new indicators confirm that tourism, one of the main pillars in Greece’s economy, brings good news. New figures reveal that Greek tourism has not only remained unaffected, it is also on par to do better this year compared to last year.
According to the Secretary General of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), Taleb Rifai, Greece welcomed 15 million international tourists in 2010, raking in close to US$13 billion in tourism receipts. “Inbound tourism expenditure in 2009 accounted for 25% of Greece’s exports of goods and services,” he said, “As such, tourism is one of the country’s principal export sectors and a vital source of employment and economic growth.”
“In terms of receipts, Greece has seen an increase of around 5% in the first 4 months of the year,” Rifai revealed. He added that while arrivals data for the first months of 2011 has not yet been released by other European Mediterranean countries, they are expected to post positive results.
Significantly, the increase in tourism revenue not only brings good news, it is irrevocable proof that Greece has a proven product that its government can rely on to help in its economic recovery efforts.
Greek tourism should also be glad to learn that foreign governments have exercised restraint in their reaction to the current situation in Greece. The United Kingdom’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office updated its travel advise for Greece on June 14, 2011, but maintains that “there are no travel restrictions in place.” Most countries with an existing travel advisory on Greece, including the United States and New Zealand, did not issue an update based on recent events, though they admit that “there is some risk to your security in Greece due to the threat from terrorism and civil unrest, and we advise caution.”
On the travel advisories, Mr. Rifai said: “UNWTO maintains that governments have a duty to inform their nationals of the difficult circumstances they may encounter abroad. However, it is vital that travel advisories be kept precise; confined to the affected area; and should be canceled as soon as normality permits, in order to avoid unnecessary repercussions for destination countries.”
Meanwhile, Greenearth.travel Director and International Council of Tourism Partners President Geoffrey Lipman is hinting a different projection, not only on Greece but for certain parts of Europe and other regions as well. The former UNWTO Assistant Secretary General is suggesting that we could expect tough economic pressures in the second half of the year. “This would result from from the impact of austerity programs in Europe on demand and the likely response on the streets plus inevitable unknown geo-political or geo-physical crises. Since then, we have had the the Arab Spring, the Japanese tsunami/nuclear drama, and a new ash cloud in the Pacific, which impact negatively on macro-economics and travel demand.”
According to Lipman, events in Greece are a part of this development, which will flare around Europe and the Middle East for the short- to mid-term future. He cautioned: “As long as they persist, do not expect great things for the global economy or for tourism. Our sector, like others, will have to go into another cost-controlled, product-streamlined, targeted marketing mode, anticipating what Herman Kahn called ‘the coming economic boom’ from sustained growth from the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) and the longer-term green growth dividend.”
Luckily, history shows that Greece, even during its most volatile moments, has kept its internal woes within itself. As a result, there is no record of tourists ever being harmed during conflict, and the country’s tourism infrastructure remains intact. UNWTO Secretary General Taleb Rifai said: “Recent protests in Greece, notably in the capital Athens, are not expected to impact tourism flows to the country in the long term. Such unrest is being witnessed in a number of countries facing austerity measures – particularly in Europe – but, to date, has had little effect on tourism results.”
Backed by history and current available data, Greece’s tourism industry can confidently conduct business as usual, and tourists should react accordingly – that they, too, can be confident of their safety when traveling to Greece. This is more great news for Greece’s tourism industry, which is currently in the second month of its peak season (May to September) for this year. Significantly, tourism to most of Greece’s island destinations is only open during peak season because of weather conditions. Any disruptions in tourism will put Greece’s island destinations in jeopardy of losing out on their only opportunity to generate income for the entire year.
By Nelson Alcantara, eTN editor-in-chief