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Greece sees tourism drop despite Games

Posted: Wednesday July 21, 2004 1:01AM; Updated: Wednesday July 21, 2004 1:01AM
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ATHENS, July 20 (Reuters) -- Greece is on course for a disappointing tourist season despite hosting the Olympics, which is expected to attract hundreds of thousands of visitors, the country's union of tourist enterprises said on Tuesday.

The number of visitors was considerably down in the first six months and, despite the August 13-29 Games, the drop could be as high as eight percent.

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"Tourism is continuing to be negative in 2004. If this trend does not change in the coming months the drop in arrivals could be as much as eight percent compared to last year," the union said in a statement.

Greece attracted just under 14 million visitors in 2003.

While other Mediterranean destinations such as Turkey, Spain and Cyprus were recording a rise in visitors, Greece was set for a second consecutive annual drop in tourism, the union said.

Flights to popular holiday islands including Rhodes and Crete were down by about six percent while Corfu has seen a drop of about 10 percent in arrivals from January to June.

Tourism accounts for 18 percent of Greece's gross domestic product, which the government wants to increase to 35-40 percent in the next decade. The industry employs about 800,000 people around the country.

"This drop could mean 20,000 fewer jobs, loss of about 800 million euros and a drop of about 0.7 percent of GDP growth," the union said.

Tourist officials had warned a few months ago a sharp increase in hotel prices and Greece's overall image as an expensive holiday destination was driving visitors away, deflating hopes of a tourism boom on the back of the Games.

Sluggish Olympics ticket sales have also raised alarm bells among organisers.

While some hotels in the capital have raised prices by seven to eight times in a bid to cash in on the Games, others on the Greek isles were now offering special deals.

Hotel owners across the Aegean were dropping daily rates and offering two free night for every seven nights in a bid to attract visitors.

"The government must battle profiteering which may appear during the Games so as to avoid defamation of the whole Greek tourism sector," the union warned.

Copyright 2004 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.

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