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Summer surge in Greek Islands holiday bookings

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Tourism watchers forecast that the Greek Islands on track for the best year ever for holiday visitors in 2014.

The Greek Islands are on track for the best year ever if the latest figures on tourist arrivals to holiday destinations across the Aegean turn out to be true.

International tourists passing through Greek airports in the first eight months of 2014 hit the 12.1 million mark, a significant rise of 15% over the same period in 2013 with holiday visitors from Britain, France and the United States leading the way.

And the top summer holiday month of August saw the biggest spike in visitors with 14.4% more flying in to enjoy Greek islands holidays compared to the same month last year to take the total to around 3 million, according to data just released by the Hellenic Civil Aviation Authority.

It's the second season running that Greece has seen a double digit rise in holiday visitors. This year's figures follows a 10.4% surge in hotel bookings during the 2013 season as recently reported in a survey conducted by the Greek national statistics office ELSTAT.

Tourism remains the biggest foreign money spinner for the ailing Greek economy at the moment. It is not only visitor numbers that matter it also matters how much they spend and, fortunately for the Greeks, revenues from tourism are also on the rise with total profits of €6.68 billion in tourism revenue over the same eight month period, up around 13.8% o the same 2013 period.

Hopes are now high that Greece can smash last year's all-time tourist visitor record of 17.5 million in 2014. There were signs of trouble when Greek air traffic controllers threatened to stage an all-out strike in the first weekend of October.

The 48-hour stoppage was called off after the move was ruled illegal by the Greek Ministry of Justice. The Greek Air Traffic Controllers' Association had announced the strike in protest at a Greek ministerial decision to give the government's Public Debt Management Agency access to airport fees.

The Agency has been tasked with finding all the cash it can to pay off Greece's international debts and has so far sold off many Greek government assets in order to help balance the books.

The Greek Air Traffic Controllers' Association insisted that airport fees should be used only to develop and maintain airport infrastructure and warned that the fees were not 'intended for third party financing, such as for public debt.'

But the Greek courts ruled s the strike action, prompting the Greek tourist organisation SETE to applaud the strike cancellation and renew hopes that October arrivals to Greece will continue the upward path shown in previous months.

In an announcement, SETE's president, Andreas Andreadis, welcomed the decision not to strike but said credit must be given to the Greece's air traffic controllers who have overseen a 25% rise in flights to Greece this year.

Their workload has risen sharply as domestic flights also soared by 17.7% this year to reach 3.96 million passengers with a 25.5% spike in August alone when domestic air arrivals across Greece peaked at 716,000.

Although it is mainly good news on the Greek Air Traffic Controllers' Association holiday front so far this year, there have been some setbacks. The collapse of several Russian and east European tourist agencies threatened at one point to put a brake on the rise in holiday visitors.

Russia has led the way in the percentage rise in tourists in recent years with massive increase in holidaymakers heading out for Greek island holidays. But thousands were left stranded in the high summer months when several Russian tour agencies collapsed without warning and declared themselves bankrupt.

The troubled stand-off between Russia and much of the Western world over its involvement with separatist movements in Ukraine was largely blamed for the collapses of several tour agency firms as US and EU economic sanctions began to bite into the Russian economy and the Russian currency dipped sharply.

But the Russian blow has been mitigated by sharp rises in holiday visitors to the Greek Islands from Britain, France and the United States this season with many airports and ferry ports reporting double digit rises in arrivals, with the popular island of Crete, Mykonos and Santorini leading the way.

Tourist spending has also increased, especially among the British and French where it jumped 40% and 21% respectively although Germans are still tops for the biggest amount spent on holidays in Greece with €588 million spent in the first six months of 2014 , followed by the British at €522 million and Russians at €347 million.

It remains to be seen which Greek Island resorts will prove the most popular this year. Crete attracted the most tourists in 2013 with an 18.8% market share, followed by Attica, which takes in Athens and the Saronic Gulf at 18.7%; the Southern Aegean, which includes the bulk of Greek islands of the Cyclades and Dodecanese at 17.1% ; then central Macedonia at 13.1% and the Ionian Islands of Corfu. Kefalonia and Zante with 7.1%.

Greece hit joint fifth place for the highest growth in foreign tourist arrivals in the world in the first half of 2014, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

UNWTO put total foreign tourist arrivals in Greece up 16.7% on 2013 percent from a year earlier, the same as Argentina.

In the worldwide tourism growth rankings Taiwan was top with 26.7%, then Japan at 26.4%, Mexico on 19.8% and South Korea at 18.5%. It comes as international tourist arrivals worldwide hit 517 million, up 4.6% on 2013.

Other countries in the top ten for a rise in visitor numbers this year were Poland, Portugal, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Sweden.

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