Crisis-hit Greece struggles to attract tourists

Wed May 19, 2010 6:40am EDT
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By Ingrid Melander

ATHENS (Reuters) - Hotel receptionist Maria Kanelopoulou has been busy crossing names out of an already rather empty reservations book since labor protests turned violent this month, ending with the death of three.

"I am worried. In Greece the only thing we have is tourism, the sea, the weather," Kanelopoulou, 45, said in the empty reception hall of 18-room Nefeli hotel in the Plaka tourist district. "People who destroy don't understand this."

Some 27,000 nights were canceled in Athens hotels after the May 5 march, threatening a resource that is essential to helping Greece out of a severe debt crisis. Greece depends on tourism for nearly a fifth of its 240-billion euro ($296 billion) economy, and one in five people work in the industry.

But even with the attraction of its thousands of islands and clear blue waters, all made cheaper by a falling euro, Greece has become a hard sell, as potential visitors are put off by the frequent unpredictable strikes and images of violent clashes at anti-austerity marches.

Travel websites are filled with questions from worried travelers wondering whether to change or cancel their bookings.

"Since we are bringing our children with us, I am seriously rethinking our plans," said one post on "I do not want to have to worry about my kids, or if there will be disruptions."

Euro zone member Greece plunged into its crisis after it revealed in October its deficit would be more than twice previous forecasts, sending shockwaves through markets worldwide and threatening the euro.

The newly elected government was forced to announce austerity steps including public pay cuts and tax hikes which in turned sparked almost daily union marches and several strikes.   Continued...

<p>Tourists walk past the Parthenon on Acropolis hill in Athens, May 18, 2010. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol</p>