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Greek airports could do better

- by Andy Cornish

Greek holiday chiefs have called for big improvements to airports across the Greek Islands in a bid to boost tourism even further in the years ahead.

This summer season has seen a 13% rise in recorded international flights to Greece and its islands compared to the same January to October period in 2013, along with a 1% rise in domestic flights.

And the aviation sector contributes an estimated €5.7 billion to the Greek economy every year with €3.3 billion coming directly from airlines, airports, air traffic control and ground handling.

The significant role that airports play in the Greek tourism chain was spelt out at a recent conference held by the Hellenic Association of Airline Representatives (SAAE) in Thessaloniki.

But SAAE president, Dinos Frantzeskakis told delegates that much more could be done to strengthen the aviation sector which provides up to 100,000 jobs as well as bringing major benefits to the Greek economy.

He added that improvements must be made to facilities and passenger services, especially in the busiest Greek Island airports such as Chania and Heraklion on Crete and in busy holiday airports like Santorini and Mykonos.

Too few winter flights to Greece

And he called on the government to impose "more competitive" charges at Athens International Airport in order to attract more airlines during the winter months when tourist passenger numbers decline sharply.

"Low cost companies and long haul airlines do not fly to Athens in the winter, which means that we cannot have competitive city breaks. This hurts the months that we want to extend the tourism season," he told delegates.

He also attacked the 'spatosimo' air passenger tax that has been imposed on international and domestic passengers departing from all Greek airports which had not been reduced despite promises made earlier this year by the Greek government.

It looks like another record year for Greek Island holidays in 2014 with visitor numbers looking set to top the 21 million mark this year with the giant share of arrivals by air.

Airport arrival figures show that visitors to Greece in October this year topped 1.2 million, a 23% rise on last year making an overall 15% increase on figures for the ten months from January to October 2014.

And 2014 is the third year in a row that Greece has set new records for international visitors despite a sharp drop n Russian visitors earlier this year following the collapse of several east European package tour operators.

Airports good for Greek jobs

Greek airports are already benefiting from low ground handling charges, a vital element when airlines choose an airport as a hub where aircraft can be parked and maintained.

Some 3,000 workers are employed in ground handling services in Greece but this number doubles in the high summer holiday season when airports get far busier.

During peak season, usually from late March to late October, employees in this ground handling activity at Greek airports amount for some 6,000 jobs, often on Greek islands where finding work is not easy,.

The cost of ground handling at airports in Greece is about a third of handling costs at most major European airports, making Greece an attractive proposition for low cost airlines.

There are currently 118 airlines operating in Greece of which 73 have sales offices in the country. The main aims of the association, are to advance and develop airline industry in parallel with tourism development in Greece as a whole.

The growth in the beach holiday market over the past three years has been vital for the Greek economy, bringing in billions of euros in foreign cash at a time when Greece is struggling to repay international debts with tourism now accounting for 16% of the country's GDP.

The president of the Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises (SETE) Andreas Andreadis has said it is 'imperative' to improve the prospects for tourism in the Greek Islands even more.

He has urged the Greek government to "further shield the sector, boost investment, improve quality, support small and medium tourism enterprises, and improve competitiveness and sustainability of the Greek tourism."

With airlines and airports playing such a major role it could well improve the prospect for even higher levels of tourism if airport taxes and costs can be lifted further.