July 19, 2013 / 12:45 PM / 5 years ago

UPDATE 1-Tourists return to Greece's summer resorts, in boost for economy

By Renee Maltezou
    ATHENS, July 19 (Reuters) - Foreign tourists are returning
to Greece's sun-drenched islands and ancient temples, central
bank data showed on Friday, boosting hopes that the key sector
may help the crisis-hit country pull itself out of a severe
economic recession.
    Tourism figures have clearly benefited from comparison to
last year, when speculation about Greece being forced out of the
euro and fears of social unrest had scared away many visitors
before the peak summer holiday season.
    But Greece's tourist industry is taking heart from data
showing a 38.5 percent annual rise in receipts in May and a 15.5
percent increase in the first five months this year and predicts
a bumper season. 
    "It's a very positive sign," Yannis Retsos, the head of
Greece's Hoteliers told Reuters. "I believe this upward trend
will continue in the coming months. With the help of tourism,
Greece could take a first step towards growth."
    Greece's current account balance also swung to a small
surplus in May, helped by a narrower trade gap and higher
tourism receipts.
    Tourism accounts for about 17 percent of output and one in
five jobs in a country where unemployment has risen to about 27
percent. Tourism officials see a 10 percent revenue rise in
2013, to 11 billion euros, on the back of an expected record 17
million visitors, one million more than in 2012. 
    A popular destination mainly for Germans and Britons for
decades, Greece is now attracting increasing numbers of tourists
from Eastern Europe, with these markets accounting for about a
fifth of total arrivals, a trend which is expected to continue.

    In the first six months of the year, foreign tourist
arrivals increased 10 percent annually with summer resorts such
as the Aegean island of Mykonos seeing a 60 percent increase in
airport arrivals.   
    Although Greece expects more foreign visitors this year,
domestic tourism - which accounts for up to 25 percent of total
tourism revenues - has been severely hit and is seen remaining
at last year's depressed levels, tourism bodies have said. 
    Greek incomes are being severely squeezed, cut by about 30
percent on average since the crisis started 2009, with signs
that some Greek families can no longer afford long summer
vacation or frequent weekend escapes away from Athens to nearby
    A survey conducted earlier this month by the consumers'
institute INKA showed that more than two thirds of Greeks have
not planned a summer holiday this year.
    About 70 percent of the 545 respondents said that this was
mainly due to financial reasons and 20 percent said job and
income uncertainty had deterred them from making the decision. 
    The majority of Greek vacationers said their getaway would
last up to five days and more than half of those polled said
that they would stay with family or friends rather than spend
money on hotels.
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