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Greece Hopes to Cash in On Olympic Success - 2004-08-25

Greece's tourism minister says he thinks universal praise for his country's successful staging of the Olympic Games will attract more international visitors to Greece and reverse a downturn in tourist arrivals over the past three years. Greece is seeking to diversify its appeal to tourists and lessen its dependence on mainly northern European sun-seekers.

Greece had 12 million visitors last year, but Tourism Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos wants to see that figure rise to 20 million by the year 2010.

In a country where tourism accounts for 18 percent of the economy and employs 800,000 people, Mr. Avramopoulos is launching a plan to attract a wider range of visitors in future years. He wants Greece to promote its cultural treasures, but he also is seeking to portray the country as an ideal place to hold conventions, now that it has proven that it can organize big events like the Olympics.

Since Greece adopted the euro, the European single currency, three years ago, it has struggled to remain competitive as a sun-seeker's destination with cheaper Mediterranean competitors like Turkey, and the number of visitors has declined. But Mr. Avramopoulos told reporters through an interpreter this week that, even though the number of arrivals for the Olympics is less than expected, the boost the Games has given to Greece's image has already been translated into increased bookings next month.

"We do not have the expected number of visitors," he said. "However, it must be said that vis-ŕ-vis other European countries, Greece is doing better. In the first four months of this year, we had fewer visitors but higher revenues, four or five percent in excess of last year's revenue. The Olympic Games themselves, in conjunction with other events, do, of course, advertise Greece, and, I think to prove that, in September we will, in fact, have a lot of tourists."

The Greek tourism minister says a combination of high prices and security concerns have kept many people away from the Olympics. But he says the average tourist seeking sun and relaxation is different from the Olympic spectator, whose sole focus is on the sporting events.

Mr. Avramopoulos says he also thinks Athens, which used to be a way-station for tourists on their way to the Greek islands, will now become a year-round destination for foreign visitors. The capital, once dirty and chaotic, has been totally transformed. It is now clean, user-friendly and well-organized and boasts a brand new and efficient public transportation system.