Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Greece Faces Bleak Tourism Forecast

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Greece Faces Bleak Tourism Forecast

Article excerpt

It's been a dreary spring in the coffee shops and cobbled streets of this city's historic quarter. Instead of the normal flood of tourists, there's been a persistent trickle of unseasonable rain.

Kosta Koukios's family owns several stores here where he sells handmade, 22-carat gold replicas of ancient jewelry. But this year, with the economic crisis hitting the tourist industry hard, no one is buying.

"Jewelry is not something small that costs 50 or 100 euros," he said, as he sat in one of his empty stores. "So, we're hurting even more than hotels and restaurants. Business is down about 70 percent."

Across Europe, and especially in the sunny seaside resorts lining the Mediterranean, the mood in the tourist industry is grim as the peak summer months near.

The United Nations World Tourism Council reported May 12 that the number of international tourists traveling in the first two months of the year declined 8 percent compared with last year, with European, Middle Eastern, and Asian destinations being hit hardest. Many destinations in Europe are reporting even steeper declines.

In Athens, hotel bookings for the first quarter of 2009 were down 20 percent from last year, according to the Attica Hotel Association. In Spain, the number of foreign tourists is down 16.3 percent so far this year, while in Cyprus, revenues from tourism declined 12.8 percent.

"It's not a problem only for Greece: it's also for Spain, it's for Portugal, it's for Italy, too. All over, Europe is facing a problem from this crisis," says Lyssandros Tsilides, of the Hellenic Association of Travel and Tourist Agencies. "We hope it will go down only 10 percent, that we will pick up new business from last-minute bookings."

The big test will come during the crucial summer season. Many communities, especially around the Mediterranean rim, rely on summer tourism to support them for the entire year. And in Greece, hoteliers and tourist agencies are reporting 20 to 30 percent declines in summer bookings.

The Greek island of Rhodes is famous for its sunny beaches, medieval walled city, and pretty Cycladic villages. Last year, more than 1.2 million people visited. The economy of the entire island, home to about 120,000, depends almost entirely on tourism. …

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