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 >  Greek holidays  >  Visitors may top 18 million

Greek holidays may top 18 million

- by Andy Cornish

Record year forecast for the Greek Islands.

Tourism looks set to be Greece's biggest money spinner this year with up to 18 million tourists forecast to visit Greece and the Greek islands.

The annual influx of Greek Island holiday visitors more than doubles the population of Greece and it's a far cry from the 1950's when tourist visitors to the country only just topped 32,000 mark.

The highly controlled and well promoted tourism industry of today is very different from the early days when tourists 'swamped' the country in the 1970's at a time when there was no tourist management as such.

Holidaymakers poured into Greece throughout the second half of the decade and visitor numbers soared more than 1000% between 1961 and 1990.

The first tourists to Greece were mainly here to visit Athens and tour the historical sites but, with the advent of cheaper air travel in the 1970's, they turned their attention to the sandy beaches and perfect holiday weather in the Greek islands.

The phenomenon of mass tourism and cheap package holidays spread throughout the 1970s and Greece and the Greek Islands did not escape the seismic shift.

A recent survey carried out by the Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises (SETE) shows the rapid development of the Greek tourism industry from 1950 to 2012.

The huge growth in Greek island holidays and the concentration of mass tourism on popular island like Corfu and Kos caused many problems for both the social and natural environment.

Beautiful beaches were blighted by huge hotel complexes, local buildings were bulldozed to make way for neon-lit nightclubs and Greek culture disappeared in a riot of burger and chips.

The phenomenon of cheap package holiday mass tourism dominated the market for several decades but tourism experts have noted that the market for mass tourism has been in decline since the early 1990s.

Now Greek authorities acknowledge that a new, strategic plan is necessary at both a national and local level to develop and encourage r alternative forms of tourism.

Now the shift is towards up-market holidays and for the development of more remote Greek holiday islands. The tourism sector is promoting Greek scuba diving holidays, adventure and activity holidays, island cruises and health breaks in order to boost numbers and extend the traditional beach holiday season.

Better and faster links between islands are set to follow after the Greek government eased restrictions on cruise liners and opened up seaplane services between the islands.

In 2000, more than 13 million tourists chose Greece and the Greek islands as their holiday destination and it rose to a record 17.5 million last year.

Tourism sector one of the main sources of income for a Greek governments mired in debt and, as the country's biggest money spinner in terms of foreign income it must stay competitive and attractive to foreign visitors.