Tourists return to Greece's summer resorts, in boost for economy

Fri Jul 19, 2013 8:49am EDT
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By Renee Maltezou

ATHENS (Reuters) - Foreign tourists are returning to Greece's sun-drenched islands and ancient temples, central bank data showed on Friday, boosting hopes that the key sector may help the crisis-hit country pull itself out of a severe economic recession.

Tourism figures have clearly benefited from comparison to last year, when speculation about Greece being forced out of the euro and fears of social unrest had scared away many visitors before the peak summer holiday season.

But Greece's tourist industry is taking heart from data showing a 38.5 percent annual rise in receipts in May and a 15.5 percent increase in the first five months this year and predicts a bumper season.

"It's a very positive sign," Yannis Retsos, the head of Greece's Hoteliers told Reuters. "I believe this upward trend will continue in the coming months. With the help of tourism, Greece could take a first step towards growth."

Greece's current account balance also swung to a small surplus in May, helped by a narrower trade gap and higher tourism receipts.

Tourism accounts for about 17 percent of output and one in five jobs in a country where unemployment has risen to about 27 percent. Tourism officials see a 10 percent revenue rise in 2013, to 11 billion euros, on the back of an expected record 17 million visitors, one million more than in 2012.

A popular destination mainly for Germans and Britons for decades, Greece is now attracting increasing numbers of tourists from Eastern Europe, with these markets accounting for about a fifth of total arrivals, a trend which is expected to continue.


Tourists take photographs at the top of the Acropolis hill in Athens July 4, 2013. REUTERS/John Kolesidis