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EOT: Alternative tourism holds key to sector`s survival

Greece`s tourism industry must diversify and invest its energies in developing alternative forms of tourism to attract visitors year-round if it is to…

Greece`s tourism industry must diversify and invest its energies in developing alternative forms of tourism to attract visitors year-round if it is to remain viable. Hellenic Tourism Organisation (EOT) general secretary Evgenios Yiannakopoulos pressed this point at a recent Athens luncheon organised by the Foreign Press Association of Greece and attended by industry representatives.

EOT has as a major medium- to long-term goal the extension of the tourist season beyond the months of May-October and is encouraging the expansion of a fledgling field of the industry – that of alternative tourism, in an effort to shrug off the sea, sun and sand stereotype attached to Greece, Yiannakopoulos named theme parks, cultural tourism, spa resorts, sports-based trips, marine tourism, agrotourism and nature holidays as key areas which hold great potential for growth.

Gone are the days, Yiannakopoulos noted, when the industry operated almost automatically free of any policies, in the golden years of the 1960s, and was highly monopolistic in nature. Today, the competition is global and fierce and travellers have a wealth of destination choices, are well informed and highly demanding when it comes to price, standards and service. The computer age has literally brought the world to one`s fingertips, and the price wars being waged over the Internet is proof of the cut-throat nature of the tourism beast. Noting that EOT intends to showcase its newly revamped Internet site next week, with information points allowing tourists access planned for establishment around the country, he said: Change is happening very quickly, however, we must have balanced development in tourism. The environment must be protected.

His comments reflected criticism levelled at Greece`s reliance on mass tourism, a dependency it is also working hard to shake, as the trampling by millions of visitors over the years has degraded the natural environment and traditional character of several parts of the country – the very elements which attracted travellers in the first place.

EOT is striving to draw quality, repeat tourists, rather than quantity, as some of its Mediterranean counterparts have done successfully, Turkey being one. And the average expenditure of visitors to Greece remains at a relatively low level compared to other European destinations.

Yiannakopoulos stressed the need for Greeks to become environmentally conscious, saying that alternative tourism embodied such a philosophy and would add colour to the country`s image. As well as providing infrastructure to support this form of tourism, he said EOT hoped to work systematically with environmental organisations. We tend to remember the environment when we go on holiday and forget about it in everyday life, Yiannakopoulos said. EOT is also looking at setting up a one-stop shop to facilitate investors in the sector who currently run from ministry to ministry, dealing with a mountain of red tape.

Although the core of its 10-billion drachma advertising and promotions budget for 1999-2000 was again directed at its major sources of tourists – namely Germany, the UK and Scandinavian countries – Yiannakopoulos emphasised the government`s desire to open Greece up to new markets such as China, South America and Egypt. EOT is considering establishing a branch in China and has firm plans to do so, rather belatedly, in Cyprus.

Yiannakopoulos noted that two presidential decrees concerning strict rating systems for hotels and rented rooms, forming part of its focus on upgrading accommodation, would be ready for signing by next month.

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