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Athens strives to keep tourists well-informed

Tourists passing through or staying in Athens this year should notice something a little different about the capital…

Tourists passing through or staying in Athens this year should notice something a little different about the capital – a greater sense of organisation, or so the freshly-elected government hopes.

Recognising that its global competitors, particularly those in the Mediterranean, have whipped their infrastructure, accommodation and services into enviable shape in recent years, Greece also appears to be striving for quality and professionalism in tourism.

Driven by enterprising members of a highly-educated generation, this crucial sector of the economy is starting to exhibit signs of maturity some 50 years after the country became a fashionable destination. It seems attempts are being made, both by the private and public sector, to shake off some bad habits, such as profiteering and false advertising, practised for years by an unscrupulous few individuals belonging to the old guard that have served to prevent a good number of first-time visitors from coming back.

The government is working to improve the country`s image in a number of ways, knowing that travellers are well-informed, discerning and have almost unlimited choice in terms of destinations, airfares, accommodation rates and packages. Those countries which have invested in developing specialised forms of tourism such as adventure travel and agrotourism are booming. Greek entrepreneurs realise this, as does the administration, and companies offering off the beaten track alternatives are mushrooming. Visitors are being offered another view of Greece, one that the island-drenched brochures rarely show and many of the natives are only just discovering. Mountain ranges resembling Alpine country in winter, serene lakes which support rare bird species, fast-flowing rivers that tempt water sports enthusiasts and villages where the townsfolk hold steadfastly to traditional ways – these are just some of the sides being featured in the Hellenic Tourism Organisation`s (EOT) 10-billion drachma advertising campaign this year.

Development Minister Nikos Christodoulakis announced a set of measures to be introduced immediately and designed to boost Greece in the eyes of visitors.

A Greece 2000 pamphlet, to be distributed at all entry points, on ships, in planes, EOT offices and other sites, will list useful information and tourists` rights as well as picture reproductions of archaeological artefacts created especially for 2000. The works, which are being sold for a token sum, can be ordered via post or the Internet and they are sent directly to the buyer. The leaflet also gives details on a new service that collects animals killed in road accidents, a sight which Christodoulakis noted leaves a bad impression on visitors.

Representing a step forward in addressing problems faced by travellers, a tourist information and support network known as ESTIA (source) has been established. Staff are trained to deal with difficulties visitors may face, particularly those concerning public services. ESTIA can be contacted on 171.

The tourist police and information line (tel 171), which has oftentimes proven a cause for complaint itself, is being upgraded with more staff and will operate on a 24-hour basis during the tourist season.

Special signs are to be posted in taxis providing information and outlining the rights and obligations of both driver and passenger along with fare estimates for common routes. Christodoulakis did not say these were obligatory.

In an effort to encourage rented room owners to improve the quality of accommodation and services, he said EOT would supply rented room owners with a comments book which is to be made available to guests. At the end of the year, the volumes will be returned to local EOT offices.

He further noted that the Athens hoteliers` union and the Athens 2004 Organising Committee would meet next Tuesday and soon sign an agreement on bed capacity for the Olympics, not just to ensure there are sufficient beds but to raise the quality of tourism, in the capital. We need to look at how we can utilise the Games as motivation to develop tourism for 2004 and beyond, Christodoulakis said. We should improve the image of Athens so it can receive the tourism it deserves.

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Theodore is the Co-Founder and Managing Editor of TravelDailyNews Media Network; his responsibilities include business development and planning for TravelDailyNews long-term opportunities.

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