Holiday gloom despite records
Dabs Banner: January 2015
Holiday visitors flying into Greece and the Greek islands hit record levels in 2014 with more than 14.5 million passing though airports across the country, latest figures show.
Once ferry port arrivals and other visitors are factored in it looks likely that Greece will easily top the total of 19.5 million visitors notched up in 2013, itself a record year.
According to latest data from the Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises (SETE) a total of 14.5 million international airline arrivals passed through the 17 major airports of Greece with more than half of those from outside the eurozone.
Holidays in the Greek Islands were most popular with tourists from the UK, Russia and the United States who helped put Greece among the top 15 tourist destinations worldwide.
But the latest political crisis has already had an impact on 2015 with early bookings down dramatically as the country gets embroiled in political turmoil, the spectre rises of a Greek exit from Europe and the Russian currency crisis bites.
The recent drop in the euro exchange rate and low oil prices should have triggered an early holiday booking frenzy by now and sales should be soaring.
But holiday firms say early-bird booking has slowed to a halt this year after negative press coverage of a possible Greek exit from the Eurozone (Grexit).
This, coupled with the collapse or the promising Russian holiday market, a big growth area in 2014, has cast gloom over this year's prospects.
Despite the cheap euro giving Greece a great opportunity to attract more tourists, the political instability is proving a major setback for the tourism industry.
The threat of social unrest, strikes and other disruption has seen tourists already turn to rival Mediterranean countries such as Spain, Italy and southern France for their holiday breaks this year.
The biggest worry for tourists is the possibility of run on Greek banks if the leftist Syriza party wins power in elections later this month.
A new leftist government is pledged to renegotiate Greek debts with international creditors, threatening to default on loans and promising Greeks more government spending.
If Greece defaults on bailout payments, the European Central Bank may cut cash lifelines to Greek banks which may be forced to close to prevent depositors withdrawing cash.
The only option then is to impose capital controls, a return to the drachma and Greece begging its creditors for mercy.
Despite the troubled political and financial outlook the Greek tourism industry remains positive. The president of the Greek Tourism Confederation (SETE), Andraes Andreadis claims the rise in quality of services coupled with cheap euro and low oil prices will outweigh any political upheavals.
He is confident that the drop in bookings since Christmas is outweighed by the positive benefits of increased flight capacity planned for 2015 compared to 2014 for most Greek destinations.
Despite the drop in visitors from Russia last year, Greece will still have welcomed a record 21.5 million visitors in 2014, a rise of 20% on 2013 and shored up even further by the extra 2.5 million cruise ship arrivals reported last year.
"The country will once again comfortably be among the leading 15 tourism destinations of the world, as measured by the UN's World Tourism Organisation," Mr. Andreadis added confidently.
"With the increase in quality of our products and services, and competitive prices that have been further improved by the recent devaluation of the euro and falling oil prices, we are confident that we will be in a position to reach, and even surpass, our targets in 2015," he said in a statement .