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Bailout could hit Greek holidays

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Mindful of the impact the Greek crisis might have on holiday bookings this year, the government has stepped in with a special helpline to help visitors solve any problems they may have.

Greek tourism minister, Elena Kountoura, invites anyone planning a holiday in the Greek Islands this year to contact a special team set up to offer travel advice.

In a televised message aimed at tourists she said: "I have been working closely with all tourism authorities and associations to ensure Greece continues to offer the highest quality of tourism services to its visitors."

"We have daily updates here at the Ministry for Tourism, and we are all working 24/7 to provide solutions to any problems that may arise, with our first priority being to ensure that all visitors have a lovely holiday experience in Greece."

Tourism officials fear the continued publicity over the country's debt problems coupled with bank closures and repeated fears of a sudden Greek exit from the euro will make foreigners think again about booking a Greek holiday this year.

Although holiday booking so far are still holding up and despite repeated assurances that holiday visitors will not be affected by the continuing crisis there have been reports of a drop in bookings for Greek Island holidays.

Now the government hopes it can halt the slide with a special team to reassure visitors and address any problems they might have while taking holidays in Greece.

The ministry says that despite curbs on currency transactions for Greeks, visitors can withdraw money from any cash machine (ATM) or carry out any other type of transaction using their credit or debit cards with no withdrawal limitation apart from the person's own personal limit.

And they have dismissed media reports of problems with supplies of food, medicine or fuel to the Greek islands as 'unfounded'. "They are not reflecting the actual situation in Greece," a spokesman said.

Latest reports show that holiday arrival continue to rise -- almost 7% this year on the back of two consecutive years of a record number of arrivals while the Greek National Tourism Organization (GNTO) confirm that tourists are not cancelling their planned trips.

Although they admit that last minute holiday bookings are down they are confident that this will be short lived and that 2015 will be another positive year for tourism.

The GNTO is quick to point out that ABTA (Association of British Travel Agents) will hold its next travel convention in the Peloponnese later this year and that holiday operator TUI recently presented its new program in Crete to more than 70 German travel bloggers and journalists.

The GNTO also noted that although concern about holiday travel is understandable in the current economic climate "public statements, however, based on non-confirmed information, lead to an inaccurate picture that is not based on actual data and injures tourism and the image of our country".

Tourism now accounts for 20% of the Greek economy and is a vital foreign revenue raiser for the Greek government. But even though holiday bookings are holding up, some hotel owners warn that some tax hikes proposed as part of the bailout could severely affect the industry.

"Tourism is more important in terms of GDP than industry and agriculture put together," said Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises (SETE) manager Alexander Lamnidis.

Among the tax increases proposed by creditors in the latest bailout deal is a 23% VAT increase and a possibility that many Greek islands cold lose their existing VAT discount. If they do it may mean higher prices on the islands and a subsequent hit for the holiday market.

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