|Sunday Business, London|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
May 23, 2004 - The Olympic Games are failing to boost the Greek economy, with holiday bookings falling by about a third on the same period last year, say industry sources. Tourists are turned off by the surge in hotel prices in Athens, fear of terrorism and the strength of the euro.
Noel Josephides, managing director of Sunvil Holidays, specialising in holidays to Greece, told The Business: "From what I have been told by people in Greece, total bookings are down by about 30 percent on the same time last year. For my own company, holidays to Greece are down by at least 10 percent on last year and I think that is par for the course among UK operators.
"From talking to clients I know they think it will be busy, expensive and overcrowded and they might as well go to Greece another year." Other travel agents confirmed that bookings to Greece for the August Olympics were disappointing.
Concerns over security are cited as another reason deterring tourists. A Greek anarchist group called Revolutionary Struggle claimed responsibility for three bombs that went off outside a police station in the capital on 5 May. Despite official denials, travel agents believe the bombings have had an impact on bookings.
The Olympic Games are being held in Athens on 13-29 August; travel agents say there has been confusion among tourists about the dates. This, and reports casting doubts over whether the Olympic stadiums would be completed in time, have contributed to travellers from all over the world deciding to forgo a trip to Greece this summer. Josephides said tourists are also unclear that the games would only be taking place around Athens and are said to be boycotting the whole country.
Tourists' fears about increased costs in the capital appear to be valid. "The stories of hotel prices coming out of Athens are already legendary," said Josephides. "They are charging between five and 12 times what they would usually charge for rooms. The upshot is that many beds have been unsold and now prices for August are coming down. But the damage has been done and people have decided not to go."
The Greek National Tourism Organisation's London office did not return calls from The Business.
Josephides says the country's adoption of the euro has made it 10 percent to 12 percent more expensive for tourists than last year. This has created greater competition from Croatia, Bulgaria and Egypt, which are outside the euro zone.
The Association of British Travel Agents said: "Most of western Europe is showing a downturn due to the strength of the euro and the late booking market." It expects bookings to improve later in the summer.
By Ben Wright and Tracey Boles
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