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Greek holidays visitors weather the storms

- by Andy Cornish

Greek holidays are on the rise despite the country's economic turmoil, the refugee crisis and increased tax rates on tourist goods and services.

Latest figures show an 8% rise in tourist spending in the first six months of 2015 and yet another rise in visitor numbers as more tourists then ever book holidays in Greece and the Greek Islands.

According to data released by the Bank of Greece this week, a total of 7.56 million visitors arrived on Greek holidays in the six months to June, up 20.8% on the visitor numbers for the same period last year.

Holiday arrivals from the UK are up 18% on last year as tourists shrugged off negative newspaper articles on the struggling economy and the problems of tackling huge numbers of refugees from war-torn regions of the Middle East.

Tourists from Germany are also back, with a 23% increase on last year while visitors from the United Stated are up a whopping 42%, although this is on relatively low baseline compared to the UK and Germany.

British tourists are thought to have spent €678 million so far this year, up 30% on last year while the German tourists spent €653 million, a rise of 18%. Overall, tourism receipts to June grew 8% on last year to €4.1 billion.

Greek holiday cash not only helps Greece balance the books, but it also contributes massively to the country's employment levels, according to the Greek Tourism Confederation (SETE).

Figures show that the level of paid employment offered by the Greek tourism industry in 2014 rose 23%, a year that saw record numbers taking Greek Islands holidays.

Jobs in the restaurant, bar and cafe sector rose 39% last year while jobs at campsites jumped 30%, hotel work went up 15% and travel agencies report jobs up by 12%.

During July 2014, Greece's tourism industry is calculated to have generated more than 137,00 jobs. In the summer months, tourism related jobs account for one-third of the paid employment in the private sector.

And it's not just seasonal cheap labour that is helping to keep the Greek economy afloat. In 2014, a total of €3.8 billion was paid out in salaries, an increase of some €500 million on 2013, while the average monthly salary in the hotel sector topped €1,000.

The direct contribution of tourism to Greece's GDP in 2014 was €17 billion, about 9.3% of the country's wealth, while indirect revenues take that figure to well over 16%.

The figures are welcome news for Greece's tourism industry which forecast a slump in holidays over uncertainty at how badly affected visitor numbers would be by the economic troubles, the closure of the country's banks and the imposition of capital controls after the government announced a referendum on its membership of the European Union.

It was found that there was practically no impact on tourist satisfaction in Greece, which remained at very high levels despite the problems.

Greek hotels received a very high guest satisfaction rating of 85.6% in July, despite the uncertainty about capital controls, according to data released by In SETE. The overall satisfaction rating for Greek hotels in the first six months of 2015 was 84.3%.

Overall satisfaction of Greek hotel guests is higher than rival destinations while ratings on the value for money, location, service and food stayed steady or both Greece and rival destinations such as Spain and Turkey.

The Greek Tourism Confederation is now confident the country has weathered the worst. It estimates that arrivals for 2015 will remain strong to the end of the year, reaching 25 million and bring in some €14 billion in receipts.