Greece needs to have an air policy if we want to see an increase in the number of tourists from the United States.
New York.- By Apostolos Zoupaniotis
This year it is predicted that Greece will break the record and will be visited by over 17 million tourists. But this increase will not be reflected it the visitors from the United States for a simple reason; There are not enough sets to flight to Greece and the airfares are sky-high.
Peter Vlitas, vice president for airline sales and marketing for Protravel International, one of the 10 largest US tourist management companies, in an interview with “Greek News” sets the record straight on what has to be done, starting from the need to have an air policy.
Peter Vlitas has offered many times his advice to the leadership of the Greek Tourism and although he admits “they listen”, no change of policy has taken place so far.
Q. What’s your impression about this year’s tourist activity for Greece?
A. Tourist activity for Greece is positive and strong. Given that many have felt that Greece has turned the corner, because of its financial problems and because the generous discounts many hoteliers offered, that made Greece attractive.
But, regarding the US market, the majority of the people from New York Metropolitan area that go to Greece are Greek Americans. With the help of the campaign of your newspaper and others to support Greece, everybody that could go to Greece for the summer is going.
From one hand, it is good for Greece that Greek-Americans and philhellenes will visit Greece, but because of the high ticket price most of the money they will spend on their vacation goes for the air-fare. Given that, first or second generation of Greek Americans that will go to Greece and stay mostly with relatives, they will not spend much money. So, the average amount of money a Greek American will spend is much less than if he had to stay in a hotel and visit many places.
Based on the information I have, the islands are full and thankfully the younger generations of Greek Americans that prefer the islands will go there and spend money. The more up-scale American tourists will visit Greece from mid-August till mid-September. We are fortunate that luxury hotels like the Navarino Resort in Pylos, are doing well .
Over all, given the amount of seats that exist to go to Greece, we are doing well. But it’s much more less that it could be, if there were more flights and seats and if it was more affordable. For example, if you are about to buy a ticket this week for Greece, there are people who pay over $2,000 for economy seat. If you are a family of four this is a lot of money. Another problem for a large family is to find all the seats you need in one flight.
Q. How much it cost to fly to Spain or Italy΄
Α. It’s much cheaper. Italy costs 1,200-1,300 dollars, while Spain from 1,100 to 1,200 dollars. As you go north to Ireland and the Scandinavian countries you may find tickets around $1,000 or less.
Q. We are now talking about the summer season. But tourism during the first four months of the year shrunk 2%.
A. It’s is correct. Because there is no one that wants to go to Greece during these months. Air fares are still expensive and the carriers do not want to connect, plus there is no business. Why should anyone want to go to Greece in February? From the touristic prospective, Greece has not extended the season beyond the traditional months, from May to September. There is no concerted effort to bring tourists the rest of the season; there is also no effort to bring large event, like major conferences, off season.
Q. How about the cruises?
A. The cruise ships this year are doing well, but most of them don’t start and end in Greece, but they just pass Greece. There are two issues for that: First reason is the strikes; the tourist industry took a big beating with the taxi drivers strike. The second reason has to do with flight availability. Let’s say there was a big cruise ship, with 2-3,000 passengers to start from Athens. How would they fly there? There is not enough capacity.
Q. I understand you talk often with the leadership of Greek Tourism; you raise your concerns with them and make suggestions. Are they listening?
A. They listen, they understand but there is no plan. I have to say that given the financial situation in Greece, the Greek National Tourism Organization doesn’t have the funds and this is the biggest problem. Both the Minister of Tourism and GNTO’s General Secretary are listening but there is no plan and without it you will never achieve results.
Q. What it takes to bring direct flights and more airliners to Greece?
A. The solution to bring more people to Greece is for the country to have an air-policy. There has to be a strategy. If you cannot convince the major air-liners to put a non-stop flight, you should at the very least to convince all the carriers that could possibly connect to Greece to do so. For example, Norwegian Air, which is a large airline in Europe, is now venturing in the United States. You can fly from here to Athens via Oslo but you cannot fly them back to Athens because there is a misconnection. Jet Airways goes to Brussels and connects through Aegean to Athens but you cannot connect with them to come back to New York. So Greece needs an air policy to reach out with these airlines and even US carriers and ask them to have enough connections or modify their schedule.
If I fly to Germany, or Italy on a big plane and then the connecting flight is a 100 passenger plane, there is a problem. Because I compete with those that want to go to Italy and then I am competing with the Germans or the Italians that want to go to Greece. That’s why the little flight to Athens there will be sold out. Same thing with Paris and other destinations. Are these planes going to be filled with Americans or Europeans?
The second problem is Greece has not made any attempt to market the country. There is no promotion, no advertisement, not even an internet campaign to reach out and promote Greece. We could even have Greek hotels coming as a team to promote the country. As a result there is no selling on either a professional level or even mass media about Greece.
Now that US airlines are becoming bigger we should try to approach them; even Jet Blue that doesn’t have international flights right now. But what they want to see is a commitment on Greece’s part that they will promote the country as a tourist destination; also a commitment on government’s part that when the tourists go there won’t be some major strike. Greece offers a very safe environment, it is politically stable and we don’t have the problems Turkey or Egypt has. Even during the pick of the Greek protests the problems were limited in few blocks around Syntagma Square.
So, we need a policy in the U.S. market. Come and show to the airliners that you are committed to a program to promote tourism here and work with various organizations like ASTA etc. I know the Tourism Ministry is trying to do something with them, but they should do it now. So when May comes we will be ready.
Finally there is a need to expand the season. Let me give you an example. Greek fraternities take a spring break. How about convince them that “being Greek, go to Greece”? The weather is nice and they can go to the islands, where people are accustomed to entertain youth.
There has to be a concerted policy and there are many experienced and qualified people in the United States to promote it.