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Cheap Flights and Mideast Unrest Gives Greek Tourism Record Year

ATHENS – A year of economic unrest, protests, riots, taxi and port worker strikes shutting down transportation and blocking access to planes and ships didn’t keep Greek tourism figures from rising to a record high of 16.5 million visitors, their numbers apparently swelled by trouble in the Mideast that sent tourists looking for other destinations, as well as cheap domestic flights to the islands, although domestic tourism is still hurting as the country struggles to stay afloat.
Despite that good news overall, Greece still ranks only 10th in Europe in the number of visitors, according to the UN World Tourism Organisation, behind France, Spain, Italy, the United Kingdom, Turkey, Germany, Austria, Ukraine, and Russia and Greece is still trying to put together tourism campaigns while other sectors of the government are making drastic cutbacks in the face of the economic crisis. Tourism is the country’s biggest revenue driver.

Despite protests, it's been a good year for Greek tourism

Official statistics showed that the number of cruise ships that sailed into the port of Piraeus – which occasionally had been shut down by strikes – rose by 5.1%  in the first six months of 2011  compared to last year, while the number of passengers leaped from 80,000 to 139,000, or 72.9%, pumping some sorely-needed euros into Greek coffers. The port of Katakolo in the western Peloponnese received 460 cruise ships in from January-August period, compared to 360 in the same period in 2010, and Rhodes saw a 1.8% increase in the number of tourists from cruises who visited the island.
It is estimated that by the end of 2011, some 600,000 cruise tourists will have visited the southeastern Aegean island. Cruise ship tourism has also seen a good year, according to the data, despite the fact that Greece has not fully lifted cabotage, legal restrictions, a break sought by major cruise operators that want to use Greek ports as the start and end points of their cruises.
The newspaper Kathimerini said that another factor was an agreement by hotel owners to keep their prices competitive despite their own financial difficulties, as well as the government’s decision to decrease value-added tax (VAT) on accommodation, both moves that made Greece attractive in terms of cost. The newspaper said the biggest factor, however, was “without doubt the political unrest in the Eastern Mediterranean and North Africa, which compelled thousands of tourists who traditionally travel to destinations such as Egypt and Morocco to seek safer holidays in places including Greece and its main competitors Turkey, Spain and Cyprus.”
Greece also saw an influx of visitors from Russia, and from Israel after the launch of a major campaign to promote Greece as a destination, and a deision to make it easier for Green Passport-holding Turks to come to Greece. But as Greeks who’ve had their pay cut and taxes hiked are keeping their wallets in their pockets, domestic tourism is not faring well, the numbers showing a big drop in Greeks visiting their own country, cutting back significantly on the number of destinations they visited this summer, on the number of days they took off for vacations and on their holiday spending.
Another major factor that contributed to the growth in foreign visitors was the significant increase in the number of charter and low-budget flights to Greece from abroad, and especially to the country’s most popular holiday destinations. The islands of Rhodes and Kos, for example, which lead in the number of charter flights they receive each year, respectively enjoyed rises of 28.3 and 26.2% in the seven months from April through October this year compared to last. Meanwhile, other destinations around the country started making a concerted effort before the start of the season to attract more low-budget and charter flights, including the Ionian island of Corfu, the region of Magnesia in central Greece and the northern port city of Thessaloniki.
International arrivals at Greek airports rose 10% in the first eight months from the same period last year, according to data collected from 13 airports by the Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises. Passenger arrivals from abroad increased to 8.7 million in the period, from 7.9 million over the same period a year earlier, the Athens-based association said in a statement posted on its website. The biggest increases were on the islands of Rhodes and Kos, which each saw a rise of 24 percent, followed by the Heraklion airport on Crete which had a 13% increase to 1.7 million, the data showed. Athens International Airport, Greece’s biggest, was the only one to record a drop in arrivals from abroad in the eight- month period despite increases in the last four months, according to the statement.
The number of international passengers landing at the airport rose 2.7% to 1.2 million in the peak tourist season months of June through August, the statement showed. In August, international arrivals climbed 9.3% to 2.2 million. Data were collected from the 13 airports that are responsible for about 95% of all arrivals by air from abroad. Low cost flights boosted the number of tourist arrivals mostly on the islands of Rhodes and Kos that marked a 23.77% increase on Rhodes and a 23.88% hike on Kos.

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