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Record number of tourists expected in Greece for 2017, but competition remains fierce

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A record-breaking 30 million international visitors are expected in Greece for 2017, but how do we fare against the competition from the five most formidable tourist foes?

VANGELIS TSONOS
Just a few days ago, the Greek National Tourism Organization announced that a record-breaking 30 million international visitors are expected in Greece for 2017, two million more than last year. As reported earlier in the year by the World Tourism Organization, in the last two years Greece's touristic growth has nearly doubled the global average of 3.9 per cent; creating jobs, supporting existing employment, and offering a vital transfusion in the country's ailing GDP. While Greece has always been a popular and attractive holiday destination, accolades such as the inclusion of Athens in the New York Times' '52 Places To Go in 2017' article, a number of new direct flights with some of the world's biggest airlines and an increased focus in innovative travel segmentation has paid dividends for the extension of the travel season and the emergence of new markets, the biggest one being China. According to a recent article by The Economist, travel experts are predicting 40 million arrivals nationwide by the year 2022; for 2017 Greece is expecting a large flow of British, German, and Russian tourists, although various reports from the tourism industry suggest that, on average, tourists are staying fewer nights and spending far less than ten years ago. It is an area that needs addressing.

But Greece is not the only game in (the southern Europe) town. A host of other countries are also relying on tourism to give a helping hand to their struggling economies and we must be prepared. So how do we fare against the competition from the five most formidable tourist foes?

Turkey
A series of terrorist attacks and domestic political turmoil has taken its toll on Turkey's previously booming tourism sector. With the growing network of the national air carrier, infrastructure development, and an easy entry to the country - only three per cent of foreign visitors need visas - Turkey immediately grew into one of the most popular destinations in the world for the first half of the decade. But after the events of 2016, the country's tourism has yet to recover. Foreign arrivals for the first three months of 2017 fell to 3.8 million, down 6.4 per cent from the same period last year. Citizens from Western Europe appear very hesitant to visit a country that is widely characterised as 'not safe', with Turkey depending on arrivals mostly from countries like Iran, Georgia, or Bulgaria to avoid a further tourist nosedive. Since Ankara and Moscow repaired diplomatic relations, Russian arrivals have shown signs of life, but the future doesn't look bright for a country where tourism accounts for 13 per cent of the national GDP and helps support eight per cent of all jobs.

Spain
In 2016 Spain shattered every tourism record with 75 million foreign arrivals forking out a total of €77 billion (AUD$113 billion). The lion's share of foreign visitors came from the UK (17 million in a Brexit year), France, and Germany. In terms of the most popular regions, Barcelona held the top spot, with the Balearic and Canary Islands also scoring huge numbers. State officials voiced their satisfaction for 2016 results, but underscored the need to create an economic policy to consolidate what the World Economic Forum called 'the most competitive sector in the world'. The low-cost 'sand and sun' model isn't sustainable, so every hand on deck is working tirelessly in an effort to bring more tourists, higher hotel prices and improved services. Whether they will break the arrivals record for the eighth year in a row remains to be seen.

Italy
Italy is an historically desirable holiday destination and arrivals in 2017 have already seen a strong gain from last year. The country has rolled out the carpet in order to attract tourists mainly from China and Russia in the last two years, as the country represents the second-most important destination for tax-free shopping in all of Europe. April saw a 57 per cent increase in sales of this fashion (sic), with the country targeting more tourists from the US, Japan, and Taiwan to boost this profitable 'visit and shop' combination. For the fifth-most visited country in the world, one that boasts rich culture, history, countless world heritage sites and a beautiful landscape, it is a sign that you can never rest on your laurels and wait for the tourist hordes to just appear.

Croatia
In 2012 Croatia had 11.8 million tourist visitors; in 2016 the number rose to 16.6 million arrivals and with 300,000 foreigners visiting the country in the first weekend of June alone Croatia is set for a record-breaking year as well. Croatia is a very popular destination for Austrians, Germans, and Italians due to its close proximity. In 2015 the Croatian Ministry of Tourism launched an ambitious campaign that through large investments and the development of special forms of tourism (mostly in the health, business and nautical sectors) would raise the figures to 93 million overnight stays by the year 2020. All indications suggest that they will reach their landmark three years earlier.

Portugal
Portugal saw an extraordinary 13 per cent rise in foreign visitors for 2016 from the previous year, exceeding the 10 million mark for the first time and helping the recovery of a still fragile economy. Like Greece, Portugal is considered one of the world's safest destinations and has profited from security concerns in Turkey, North Africa, and even France. The country lures tourists with some of the most competitive holiday packages in Western Europe, but despite the redevelopment of many apartment buildings and the opening of 100 four- and five-star hotels in the last two years, the infrastructure leaves much to be desired. For now.

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