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Tourism suffers from ‘lack of strategy’

The biggest problem facing Greek tourism is the lack of a long-term strategy and policy, the head of an industry body has asserted…

The biggest problem facing Greek tourism is the lack of a long-term strategy and policy, the head of an industry body has asserted.

Spiros Kokotos, chairman of the Association of Greek Tourist Enterprises (SETE<.>), levelled the charge last Friday during the 16th Philoxenia international tourism exhibition in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki, following the government's announcement of the plans it has for this vital sector in 2001 and beyond.

Development Minister Nikos Christodoulakis had earlier declared that a total of 596.2 billion drachmas in financing from the EU's Third Structural Fund would be funnelled into the industry between now and 2006.

Kokotos said that the Simitis administration had failed to effectively incorporate tourism in its development policies.

"No development programme has viewed tourism in terms of quantity and quality, specific aims, its contribution to gross domestic product, the balance of exports and imports, or its role in employment and the upgrading of quality," Kokotos said.

"As the minister is attempting to work with the existing situation, his efforts and the funds allocated achieve only minimal results."

However, Kokotos characterised as positive the intense planning undertaken by the development ministry and the Hellenic Tourism Organisation (EOT) in order to secure the EU monies.

Of the total sum directed towards tourism, 208.2 billion drachmas will be spent on increasing the industry's competitiveness. The plan involves setting up a marketing support network, upgrading accommodation and promotions, support of specialised tourist facilities, development of alternative forms of tourism and marinas, promotion of winter tourism, restructuring of tourism training programmes and business excellence initiatives.

"For the first time, we are seeing detailed proposals… Industry representatives were invited to comment on these and suggest improvements. These could have been ameliorated further if they had been presented for discussion before being finalised and forwarded to the relevant EU committee," Kokotos stated.

"The national tourism advisory council was totally ignored in this process, and its role – rather than advisory – has been limited to that of an audience member."

Pointing to the state's decision to focus on quality in tourism, Kokotos said it was impossible to substantially increase the number of golfcourses in this country, for instance, or improve hotel standards when there was no relevant legislative framework allowing for land to be rezoned. As subsidies for such investments are low and limitations have been placed on property development, not one new golfcourse has been built, he stated.

A classic example of the government's disinterest in the sector is the fact that the Greek capital has no exhibition and convention centre, Kokotos noted, despite repeated calls for the development of specialised forms of tourism such as congress organisation.

"This matter has been under discussion for many years and the centre's establishment is continuously delayed, leading to loss of revenues and possible employment opportunities," he said.

Kokotos also expressed disappointment with the EU's attitude towards the industry, saying it appeared that no specific Europe-wide tourism policy could be expected in the near future.

"It seems that southern European countries do not favour such a policy as they assume it means tourist enterprises would face pressure from authorities to ensure protection of the environment and the consumer," Kokotos stated. "This may prove to be the case if the countries in question do not stand up for themselves or receive support from their governments."

In light of the Athens 2004 Olympics, Christodoulakis noted that 83 expressions of interest for the establishment of new hotels in Attica – representing a total of 21,000 beds and a 200-billion drachma investment – had been received.

The annual fair, which is open to the public, ended on Sunday.

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