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Tourism in Greece took a hit last year, fueled by the downturn in the worldwide economy and periods of well-publicized unrest in Athens. But the picture for 2011 looks brighter according to Christos Stergiou, president and CEO of TrueGreece, an Athens-based luxury travel company. He spoke to TAW about how Greece is bouncing back from last year’s tourism slump and what he sees as the future of travel in his country.
Bloomberg reported that Greece’s tourism revenue declined by 9 percent last year. Have you seen bookings to Greece for the 2011 upcoming summer season increase from last year? There is definitely an increase for the upcoming season. Almost all of our business is FIT, so I cannot provide you with a specific breakdown of travel products, but my overall feeling is that the increase is substantial regardless of the product. We are currently looking at a year-on-year increase of approximately 15-20 percent.
What are your most popular travel products? Which ones do U.S. travelers ask for most often? Our specialty is arranging customized trips with in-country support, and we also run a limited number of escorted trips. Of course, our FITs include customized experiences such as guided tours, sailing trips, cooking lessons, winery visits or other customized experiences. U.S. travelers have been asking for more private experiences and, in recent years, we just don’t see any significant demand for our escorted travel packages. Which of your travel products suffered the most cancellations during the downturn last year? How will you make up for it this year? We saw a significant drop in demand in our FITs in 2010 and are definitely glad to be rebounding this year. We continue to work on responsibly educating our prospective guests on the situation in Greece, informing them that, not only are the islands completely unaffected by any turmoil, but Athens is also a very safe place to visit and that our lives are as calm as ever.
Are you offering any special promotions for the U.S. market? If so, what are they?We have always been running special promotions provided to us by our partners, including complimentary guaranteed room upgrades at the time of booking or complimentary transfers. We continue to run such specials throughout the 2011 booking season.What is TrueGreece doing to make travel to Greece more attractive — and affordable — this summer? Are clients afraid of further unrest? We have not had any pushback from potential guests who are afraid of further unrest, especially since things have been quiet for a while now. Even in 2010, no TrueGreece guest was affected by strikes or protests, since the images broadcasted by international media were only taking place in a few blocks of the city of Athens. TrueGreece offers a great advantage because our operations office is located in Athens so, whenever a strike was taking place or there was the potential for unrest, we would pre-emptively get in touch with our guests and inform them about the areas they would need to avoid — literally just a few blocks in the center of Athens. In just a couple of instances during the entire summer season, we moved guests from one Athens hotel to another, only as a precautionary measure. It was frustrating to see that the image depicted by international media was blown out of proportion. I, all of our staff and millions of citizens lived our normal lives as usual, knowing not to show up in a limited area of the city at the wrong time.
Are there areas of the country that you think have New potential? Someplace where you would like to take clients in the future? An area of Greece that I think has immense potential for growth is the Peloponnese, a large peninsula not far from Athens that includes well-known highlight areas such as Olympia and Nafplion, or ancient sites such as Mycenae and the ancient theater of Epidavros. Messinia, for one thing, has recently been put in the spotlight since the launch of the Costa Navarino Romanos and Westin, two prominent Starwood resorts that have surfaced in the middle of one of the most beautiful yet undiscovered areas in the Peloponnese. I expect that this beautiful region of Greece will develop rapidly in coming years, and TrueGreece is excited to potentially offer a wider variety of experiences in the area.