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PM voices interest in tourism sector progress

Prime Minister Costas Simitis expressed a personal interest in Greece`s vital tourism industry at last Friday`s inner cabinet meeting, saying he would attend the next session of the national tourism council…

Prime Minister Costas Simitis expressed a personal interest in Greece`s vital tourism industry at last Friday`s inner cabinet meeting, saying he would attend the next session of the national tourism council. Development Minister Evangelos Venizelos relayed the premier`s intentions at a press conference the same day, where he pointed out that the calling of general elections on April 9 had cleared the political horizon.

Confident of a Pasok victory, Venizelos stated the government was full of praise for the recent initiatives the development ministry and the Hellenic Tourism Organisation (EOT) has undertaken. We have the support of the cabinet and the PM himself, he said.

Simitis` attendance at the sixth meeting of the tourism council would grant him the opportunity to have direct contact with representatives from the entire industry, Venizelos noted, saying: The council is a useful body which deals with all tourism issues. It has met with much success, the most recent being the formulation of a `key` rating system for rented room accommodation. A second proposal relating to hotels, based on the international star rating system, is also due to be finalised within the next two weeks. Venizelos said the aim was for both systems to be passed into law before the elections.

Additionally, the council intends presenting a fully upgraded EOT Internet website at the upcoming session.

Cabinet not only verified the importance of tourism within the framework of the EU Third Community Support Fund but said it expected that funds allocated to this sector should increase further each year, Venizelos said. The funds earmarked for tourism are `locked`, to use election speak.

Monies originating from the EU Second Community Support Fund will be fully absorbed by the end of December 2001, he noted. However, the minister reiterated the government`s view that the state financing should be supplemented by private investment, if the sector is to upgrade, develop and expand.

Despite assumptions made on the part of some, the ministry does not consider any part of Greece to have reached saturation point in terms of five- and four-star accommodation, even extremely popular destinations such as the Dodecanese or Cycladic islands. Indeed the main threat we face is the downgrading of those tourist areas which experienced rapid development in the 1970s and 80s, Venizelos said, referring to the fact that much of the accommodation and other facilities have been left to age while renovations are few and far between.

As for Athens, he said that no one is investing in luxury hotels just for the 2004 Olympics but in view of the Games, EOT and the ministry are encouraging the upgrading of accommodation.

Meanwhile, the tender for the overhaul and operation of the marina at Chios has been successfully conducted while those for Samos and Pylos, the latter in the up-and-coming southern Peloponnese prefecture of Messinia, are proceeding. By 2005, we hope to have 16,000 berths throughout the country, Venizelos said.

He raised his two pet projects, namely the Millennia of Greek hospitality and an online register of repeat visitors to Greece – or philhellenes, emphasising that their promotion must begin this year. Wealth exists in these people. They love our country but they have never been recognised, he said, pressing for cooperation between embassies, the Secretariat for Greeks Abroad, the media and other bodies in order to realise this effort.

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