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Record year forecast for Greek Islands

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Record year forecast for Greek Islands.

Tourism leaders are forecasting a record 17 million visitors to the Greek Islands this summer. It comes in the wake of a poor year for Greek Islands holidays after a summer of protests, strikes and riots over Greek austerity measures. Early bookings for Greek holidays show a striking turnaround in fortunes.

The head of the Athens-Attica Hotels Association expecting a 'banner year' in 2012 with as many as 17 million visitors.

Strikes and street protests led to a 5.5% drop in tourists in 2012, with 15.5 million visitors, according the Greek statistical agency ELSTAT.

But advanced bookings for Greek holidays shows that visitors are heading back. Hotel reservations from the US have jumped 40% while one Russian tour operator estimates that more than one million Russians will head to the Greek Islands this year.

"We are facing a more stable future," said AAHA chief Alexandros Vassilikos.

Lower hotel and taverna prices are helping, although they have come too late to save many hotels. Around 400 have closed their doors in Athens over the last three years .

Pay cuts, tax rises and reduced pensions have hit the domestic tourism market badly and some hotels have cut their rates by 45% to attract more customers.

Tourism is still the country's biggest revenue earner and in 2011 accounted for 16% of Greece's Gross Domestic Product. Greece could reap as much as €11 billion from the tourism sector this year if forecasts turn out to be true.

A poll of 3,000 tourists in Athens last year showed that 60% did not realise that there are beaches within 30 minutes travel time from the city and 65% didn't know they could be on a Greek Island holiday beach on Aegina within an hour.