Summer surge in UK holidays to Halkidiki
Andy Cornish: October 2014
Brits are back in force on the Halkidiki peninsula this year with 32% recorded rise in tourist holiday visitors.
Halkidiki is back in business on the Greek holiday front this year with a huge surge in visitors, especially the independent holiday travellers from Britain.
Latest official figures report a massive 32% rise in UK tourists numbers in all areas of the Halkidiki peninsula from May to August 2014 compared to the same period last year.
Although not an island, the three fingered peninsula of Halkidiki with it's 500km of coastline has always been a popular haunt of visitors to the Greek Islands.
Although several major UK tour companies include Halkidiki in their brochures, it is the rise in independent travellers that has taken local tourism officials by surprise.
Of the 73,700 holiday arrivals notched up in the four-month holiday period the majority are more mature visitors making their own way to holiday resorts rather than travelling on a package tour.
A report from the Greek Tourist Authority ELSTAT said new trends are emerging in the British market where the cheap package holiday deal to Greece has been traditionally promoted.
The report says: "The modern visitor is not influenced by brands, not travelling with large groups and does not care about geographical boundaries. Instead, they organize own schedule and looking for something suitable regardless of the visibility of the destination or the accommodation on offer."
In response, Halkidiki tourism agencies are now to promote the attractiveness of independent holidays in the region as well as the traditional package tours, with visitors encouraged to use Thessaloniki as a base for exploring the cultural and leisure facilities on offer.
The Halkidiki region is characterised by the three long-fingered peninsulas of Kassandra, Sithonia and Athos. Noted for its long, sandy beaches and deep coves Kassandra, to the west, has seen the biggest rise in visitors in the many purpose-built beach resorts that have grown up along the coast.
The middle finger of Sithonia is more hilly than its neighbour and is popular with campers, although some of the region's most luxurious hotel resorts are also found here.
The third finger at Athos is almost wholly given over to a number of Christian Greek Orthodox monasteries, established since the 9th century, with tourists confined to the northern end of the peninsula.
Halkidiki's geography gives the province the longest single stretch of coastline in the whole of Greece at around 500km and much of it in the west sporting long sandy beaches and deep attractive bays
Many of the beach holiday resorts throughout the region are easy to reach thanks to an extensive and well maintained road system that links the airport and water port at Thessaloniki in the west to the more remote Athos region in the east.
But it's not just the independent sector that has seen a growth in Greek Island holidays this year. Package tour giant TUI, which is the company behind top brands such as Thomson and First Choice holidays, has seen a double digit rise in customers to Greece this year.
TUI has around 2,800 Greek hotels, apartments and villas on its books so it is one of the biggest players in the Greek holiday market. According to TUI Hellas, the total revenues of tour operator from the Greek holiday market reached €750 million in 2013.
Senior TUI executives have been meeting Greek tourism officials for talks on ways to extend the tourist season beyond the traditional summer break months from May to September, with Greece cashing in more readily on its history, culture and beautiful cities — attractions that are likely to hold more appeal to the growing 'mature' market.
It's a strategy echoed by Greek Minister of Tourism, Olga Kefalogianni, who has appealed for tourism leaders to do more to promote luxury and diversity in its drive to net more holiday visitors.
In a recent speech at a tourism conference she urged delegates to do more to promote a network of tourism product such as health tourism, thermal spas, and sports such as scuba diving, walking and rock climbing.
The conference discussed, among other things, improving the market in Greece for luxury hospitality, exploring ways to improve customer ratings, boost innovative technology and develop luxury hospitality on Greek Island cruises and the Greek hotels market.