Foreign tourists are finding their way back to Greece’s islands and ancient ruins, offering a rare boost to an economy contracting for the sixth year running.
Arrivals are reviving after dismal figures last year, but domestic tourism is at a standstill and Greece’s second-tier destinations are more deserted than ever.
The Association of Greek Tourism (SETE) enterprises this month announced a 10 percent rise in foreign arrivals at airports for the first half of the year. The Bank of Greece in turn announced that in the year running up to May, tourism revenue had soared 38.5 percent and foreign arrivals 24 percent. It also said that tourism revenue grew 15 percent between January and May.
SETE head Andreas Andreadis said that improved political stability compared to last year, a drop in prices caused by the economic crisis, as well as the cancelation of holidays to Turkey and Tunisia all contributed to the recovery.
“The winter of 2012 and all the protests held in the country [against austerity measures] had caused a great drop in summer bookings. All the uncertainty with the back-to-back elections in May and June did not help either,” he told reporters.
If the upward trend continues through the crucial summer months this month and next, the number of foreign visitors is expected to pass the 17 million mark next year, after dipping under 16 million last year.
Much is at stake, as tourism makes up 17 percent of Greece’s GDP, in a country where unemployment is close to 27 percent.
However, an investigation by the financial crimes unit SDOE confirmed it would take more than revived tourist enthusiasm to replenish state coffers.
It found that about half of the 1 million hotels, restaurants and beaches inspected over the past year were dodging tax.
In the highly popular islands of Rhodes and Santorini, three-quarters of the businesses that were inspected were fined.
Germans, Britons, Russians and French make up the majority of tourists visiting Greece.
Santorini has recently also seen an increase in bookings from Chinese, Japanese and South Korean visitors, according to Panagiotis Bletsis, head of the island’s tourism office.
The popular island registered the highest increase in foreign tourist arrivals last month with 27.5 percent.