Big Interview: New Greek government understands importance of tourism

Big Interview: New Greek government understands importance of tourism

The results of last week’s Greek elections should be cause for optimism for its tourism industry, according to the chief executive of bed bank Youtravel and hotel chain Aquis Hotels & Resorts.

But Ioannis John Kent said Greece’s recovery had been badly damaged by negative media reports, which had hit UK tourist figures and given operators an “excuse” to delay payments to Greek hoteliers.

Kent, who owns Greece’s third-biggest hotel chain, is a leading figure in the country’s tourism sector – its number one industry, employing one in four workers directly or indirectly.

New government

Greece’s new euro-friendly government will help revive the country, according to Kent.

“I am optimistic because I believe Greece needs the bailout programme. If Greece comes out of that [the euro] it would be catastrophic,” he said.

Tourism represents 17% of Greece’s gross domestic product. The significance has not been lost on the ruling coalition, which moved quickly to reinstate a ministry of tourism, appointing Olga Kefalogianni as tourism minister last week. “This is common sense when 25% of the population work in tourism.”

State of the market

Bookings for Greece remain down across most markets but have rallied since its second election in two months. According to Kent, bookings nose-dived by about 70% year on year across all incoming markets after the May 6 election, improving to about 20% down after the June 17 election.

It makes depressing reading for a country that enjoyed a record year in 2011. Greece’s top two incoming markets, the UK and Germany, are down about 11% and 25% respectively. Only Russia and the Baltic countries are bucking the trend.

Kent is confident Greece can claw back bookings for September and take a significant chunk of the lates market. But he admitted: “We have lost the traditional operator bookings. But 30% of the British market book late; I don’t think Greece will lose that market.”

Hoteliers ‘vulnerable’

Hoteliers in Greece are vulnerable, said Kent. He said operators had used the economic instability as an excuse not to pay monies owed.

He said his own chain was owed €460,000 by four operators last week, all of which had missed the payment deadline.

Kent dismissed any parallels with Youtravel, which is attempting to reduce debts to hoteliers by asking to pay as little as 70% of what it owes. “We cannot compare cashflow issues Youtravel had with the ‘Greek’ problem. Every company has different problems,” he added.

In November, Aquis Hotels was registered as a British company after operators raised fears about the Greek banking system. Now all 300 operators pay the company via a British bank. “There are no excuses not to deal with us,” said Kent.

Media mauling

In Kent’s view, Greece has suffered an unjustified media assault after comments made at a Barclays Travel Forum in May.

“It all came, in my opinion, from a statement by Dr Brian Clark, who said it was more than likely Greece would exit the eurozone,” he said. “He claimed it would also raise the possibility there would not be any banks for customers to change money.”

Kent also hit out at the UK government’s high-profile campaign to keep Brits holidaying in the UK this year. “These advertisements mentioned Crete and Corfu and came out at the same time as Brian Clark’s comments. Is that coincidence?”

Greece’s priorities

For Kent, the new tourism minister’s priorities should be to build relationships with operators and no-frills carriers.

“Greece hasn’t spent much money this year because it doesn’t have any money. I don’t think that will change but the ministry could get in touch with the operators and carriers and work on public relations with them.”


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