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Greece Hopes Increased Tourism Will Pay Off Olympic Debt - 2004-08-01


This summer's Olympic games in Athens, Greece are expected to put Greece in debt - by as much as $1.7 billion. But Greek authorities say there are tradeoffs. For example, they say hosting the Olympics is an opportunity to compete for a bigger piece of the international tourism market.

Assistant hotel manager Yannis Lappas says the start of the Olympics will also mark a new era in Greek tourism.

"People will take the opportunity to visit our country which maybe they would never do if there weren't the Olympics," he says.

Yannis Lappas works for the Grecotel, the largest hotel chain in Greece. It recently built eight new hotels including these luxury suites located outside of Athens, to accommodate Olympic fans with money to spend.

"Already we have in most of our hotels a very good number of rooms booked," he says. "Some are 100 percent booked and we expect the rest will be 100 percent full during the Olympics and we hope this will continue into the future."

The Government in Athens is also doing its part to make the city more attractive and comfortable for visitors. With the Olympic Games fast approaching, workers are scrambling to finish renovating public squares, paving 100 kilometers of roads, and covering up what they cannot fix up. The cost to the government: 150 million Euros. Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyannis says the debt incurred will be paid through increased tourism.

"Experience has shown that cities that organized the Olympics have a big tourist inflow the next years," she said. "Athens is now ready to become one center of tourist attractions again.

There have been studies that say the cost of the Olympics is greater than the business it generates. But Athens University of Economics and Business Professor Theodore Liannos thinks hosting the games is still in the long term interests of Greece. He says most of the public projects like the new tram line have been needed for years and the Olympics provided the motivation to change how government works in Greece.

"For Greece a small country and a country known for the lack of organization in terms of public office, this is a huge seminar of public employees, policemen, organizers, in terms of organizing things and doing things well," he said. "I think that is a tremendous human capital that has been acquired."

What these Olympics supporters seem to be saying is, what is good for the tourist business is good for Greece.

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