Travelers opting for Turkey over Greece

North American and other travelers are voting with their flip-flops and tennis shoes for Turkey over troubled Greece, one of the world’s top 20 tourist destinations, according to media reports.

That development comes despite Greek hotels slashing prices and scaling back staffs in a bid to recover from TV images of street riots.

“That is bad news for Greece, which is already facing declining growth and budget deficits,” notes the Wall Street Journal, particularly since tourism makes up about 15 percent of the Greek economy.

So far, tourism revenues are down almost 9 percent this year compared with the period in 2009 — itself a bad year — according to the latest Bank of Greece data.

In May, Athens hoteliers saw some 30,000 cancellations after protests rocked the capital, leaving three bank workers dead.

Meanwhile, just across the Aegean Sea in Greece’s longstanding rival Turkey, this year is shaping up as a record time for tourism.

Popular beach resorts such as Antalya are straining to cope with overflowing hotels and bars.

Revenues in the second quarter for the industry as a whole were up 7.4 percent, compared with last year, while passenger arrivals in the first half were up by a quarter, according to Turkey’s airport authority.

“The good news for Greece is that the worst appears to be over as price cuts and a calmer news cycle persuade late bookers to visit. Tourist arrivals have been rising lately,” said the Journal.

Greece, with its ancient monuments and sunny Mediterranean climate, is one of the world’s leading tourist destinations, attracting almost 15 million tourists last year.

But vacationers can find the same blue waters, ancient Greek ruins and similar food just a few miles away from many of the Greek islands. Turkey attracted 27 million tourists last year, a roughly 3 percent increase, according to official statistics.

“We have everything the other European resorts have here: sunshine, history and tourism infrastructure, only cheaper,” says Erdem Yilmaz, a restaurant owner.

This tourism trend appears to have more than made up for the loss of revenue from Israeli tourists, who are avoiding Turkish resorts in the wake of the clash on board a Gaza-bound aid ship in May, when Israeli commandos shot dead nine activists from Turkey.

Turkey has other challenges to overcome, including a reignited domestic conflict with Kurdish insurgents, who have threatened to hit Turkish urban centers and tourist resorts. That threat hasn’t materialized yet, but the pace of terrorist attacks along Turkey’s borders has risen significantly since the spring.

All of this leads some observers to think the Turkey-Greece turnaround could have another swing in the other direction.

By David Wilkening


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