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Rioters put holiday plans on hold

Rioters put Greek holiday plans on hold.

The torching of Athens city centre and TV images of rioters clashing with police could have had a negative impact on those think of taking a holiday in the Greek islands this year. But latest reports suggest that, for those tourists not put off by the street turmoil on the mainland, 2012 may be the time to book a Greek Island holiday.

Flights to Greece are currently less than half of the prices being charged last summer and, even allowing for the time of year, the low fares look likely to continue.

As Greeks brace for even harsher austerity measures, it is vital that the Greek Islands attract visitors, travel experts say. Tourism is Greece's main source of foreign revenue, worth 16% of GDP and employing nearly one fifth of the workforce.

Hotel rates have plunged across the Greek Islands in 2012 as the domestic holiday market has collapsed and Greeks are desperate for foreign visitors.

Corfu is one of the most popular Greek islands with UK holidaymakers and this year the average price for a hotel room is down 200% on last year.

Hotel owners across the Greek Islands are reassuring tourists that Greek Island holidays will be largely unaffected by the anti-austerity protests in the capital.

A travel agent said: "Some foreign visitors are afraid of what they see on TV, but this only affects Athens, not the islands."

The Greek government is also trying hard to persuade foreign tourists that Greece is a safe destination for visitors. But early indications are that Greek Island hotel bookings in 2012 are down significantly.

Zante hoteliers say reservations are currently 20% less than last January. They blame the Greek street protests that have been a feature of life in Athens for two years now, coupled with repeated strikes across the country.

Last year, visitor numbers to the Greek Islands rose nearly 10% despite the problems, which were almost entirely confined to the mainland cities of Athens and Thessaloniki.

But those making holiday plans this year will find it hard to ignore the latest violence and public disorder as the Greek government votes through yet another austerity package.

Greek tourism industry watchers say it is still too early to make any forecasts of tourism trends this year. They add that many holiday package reservations are made at the last minute and can be strongly affected by the pricing policies of Greek hotels.

With about 15 million foreign visitors each year, Greece and the Greek Islands is is one of Europe's top tourist destinations. It remains to be seen if it can keep attracting visitors against a background of mounting political and social unrest.

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