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Greek holidays top 21 million

- by Jeremy Guest

The rise in Greek island holiday bookings last year was simply unstoppable as tourism watchers report another rise in visitor numbers during November.

Latest figures show more than 21.4 million tourist arrivals stepped from planes and ferry boats to holiday in Greek resorts in the 11 months to November last year.

It took visitor arrivals to just over the 21.4 million mark, an astonishing 22.7% rise on the same period in the previous year and yet another holiday record smashed for vacations in the Greek Islands.

The rise in visitor numbers comes despite another year of austerity in Greece, record unemployment, a stagnant economy (except for tourism, and the rise of radical political parties.

The lure of the Greek Islands seems to have put the country's economic and political problems in the shade as holidaymakers put their feet up on Greek beaches and relax in the beach tavernas and cafes.

Data just in from the Bank of Greece reports holiday arrivals hitting 21.497 million in the 11 months to November last year, a huge rise on the 15.517 million recorded over the same period in 2013, itself a record year at the time.

Income from tourism also hit high levels last year with a total of €13,3 billion from tourist spending in the 11 month period, a 10.8% rise on previous year.

Spending by tourist from other EU countries was up even more, up 11.9% while tourist spending was up 21.7% for visitors from outside the Eurozone.

But it's not just the island that are proving a big holiday attraction to overseas visitors. The capital city of Athens recorded 15 million visitors last year – up 20% on 2013.

Greek Tourism Minister Olga Kefalogianni told the Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) that tourism in Greece has been on a steep upwards trend since 2011.

"Our goal is for Athens to become a metropolitan tourism centre worldwide and a strong and attractive city break destination," the minister told delegates at a meeting in Athens.

A pity then that 2015 has not picked up from last year's success story. Political unrest and threats of a Greek exit from the euro brought holiday bookings to a halt in the early weeks of the year.

Prospects have improved since then with a surge in Greek holiday bookings and pundits are confident of a quick return to normal once the snap January elections are over.

"Political instability and early elections have 'frozen' bookings to Greece, while the previous months revealed that 2015 would be a good year for tourism," said the tourism minister.

But good exchange rated for the British Pound and the American Dollar against the Euro, coupled with some 'early-bird holiday bargains from major tour operators, have tempted holidaymakers to start snapping up Greek holiday offers before they all disappear.

Greece now has a record number of hotels, hostels and campsites, according to official figures released by the Hellenic Chamber of Hotels.

A survey of holiday accommodation shows 65 new units opening and another 55 reopened last year, while 58 hotels shut down or converted into rooms for rent.

Chamber president Giorgos Tsakiris said this was the first time since records began that the number of hotels and camping sites in Greece and the Greek Islands has topped 10,000 units.

The rise in hotel building is remarkable given the economic outlook and lack of cash flow in the Greek economy that has made it much more difficult to get investment opportunities off the ground.

Notable in the details of the 2014 figures is the increase in the number of beds at high-quality hotels and luxury accommodation, which points to a change in the country's tourism strategy as it bid to attract up-market visitors looking for a more luxurious Greek holiday experience .