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Greek visitors to top 21 million in 2014

- by Andy Cornish

October tourist figures put Greece well on track to top 21 million holiday visitors this year.

Jubilant Greeks are confident that tourist holiday arrivals in Greece and the Greek islands this year will easily top the 21 million mark following a surprise jump in visitor numbers for October.

Latest figures from the Bank of Greece show international arrivals last month up a huge 23% on last year to top 1.2 million, a number that does not include those tourists arriving in Greece on cruise ferries.

When cruise visitor numbers are added to the total the Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises (SETE) is confident that its earlier forecasts of 19.5 million visitors in 2014 will be exceeded by a considerable margin.

Some industry watchers are predicting an overall year total of 23 million tourists in Greece this year, a figure that would smash all previous records.

Figures for the past two years, both of them setting new records for tourist arrivals, stood at 17.9 million for 2013 and 15.5 million in 2012.

The 23% rise in October visitors has resulted in an overall 15% increase on figures for last year for the ten month period between January and October 2014.

Early results for cruise ship visitors to Greece also show a small increase on the 2.2 million in 2013 to around 2.5 million this year . When all the results are in, tourism officials are very confident of a 20 million plus record for 2014.

Cruise arrivals were initially predicted to remain unchanged but they have notched up an increase of 100,000 in the first half of 2014.

In a press statement SETE President Andreas Andreadis said: "The latest figures show the great potential of Greek tourism. Despite the worsening economic climate in Europe and Russia, and the highly volatile environment in the region, at the end of 2014, Greece is expected to rise on the list of 15 countries with the largest tourism rate in the world. We are moving considerably faster than expected to achieve the tourism strategic plan."

It has certainly been a turnaround in fortunes for the Greek tourism market which hit the doldrums after the 2008 economic crash.

Huge international loans were needed to keep the Greek economy afloat, street riots over tough austerity measures, sharp rises in both unemployment, big tax hikes and threat of a Greek exit from the euro all threatened to send the Greek tourist market into free fall.

But street protests were confined to mainland cities and the of sunshine and Greek beaches failed to keep tourists away as the islands remained relatively unaffected by the troubles in Athens and Thessaloniki.

The arrival of Russians and East Europeans on Greek island beaches in the earlier months of the year helped to boost visitors numbers substantialy.

But this early success was largely offset by a sharp fall in the rouble following the Ukraine crisis in the summer and the subsequent collapse of a number of Russian tour operators.

The downturn in the Russian market has also been offset this year by a huge rise in holiday visitors from the UK and the return to a healthy tourist influx from Germany. Both countries have long taken the giant share of the Greek Island holiday market.

The growth in the tourism market over the past three years has been vital for the Greek economy, bringing in billions of euros in foreign cash and helping to make tourism account for 16% of the country's GDP.

The SETE president said it was 'imperative' to improve the prospects for increased tourism even more. He urged all Greeks to "further shield the sector, boost investment, improve quality, support small and medium tourism enterprises, and improve competitiveness and sustainability of the Greek tourism."