Journal: TWUKSection:
Title: Issue Date: 08/10/01
Author: Page Number: 43
Copyright: Other


Back in fashion and riding a wave of summer success, Greece is now trying to muscle its way into the winter market.

The Greek tourist office has taken the unprecedented step of bribing UK tour operators to sell Greece during the winter in an attempt to prove to the industry that the country is a year-round destination.

Panos Argyros, UK and Ireland director of the Hellenic Tourism Organisation, said operators will receive £25 for each holidaymaker they take to the Greek Islands from October 15 to April 15 next year.

“We think operators will be interested in continuing their programmes to some of the most southern islands, such as Rhodes, Crete and Kos,”said Argyros.

Several operators have taken him up on the tourist board’s offer.

Thomson is featuring Crete and Rhodes as winter-sun destinations for the first time, while Unijet is looking at offering 2002 departures to Corfu as late as November.

Cosmos has brought forward the start of the next summer season to March 21, which is the beginning of the Easter holidays.

However, group product manager Natasha Shane said bookings had been slow. “We might not carry on selling Easter because it hasn’t been too successful,” she said.

“People are not sure the weather will be good so early in the year.”

JMC said it was considering extending the season until November in Rhodes and possibly Crete, and starting again in early April.

Senior product manager Liz Westcombe said she felt there was a market for holidays out of season, as long as the price was right.

“We would use the funding from the tourist office partly to subsidise the cost of the holidays and partly for marketing,” she said.

During the summer, Greece’s performance has been nothing short of phenomenal.

There was a 7.5% increase in the number of British visitors over the summer, which wasthe fourth successive annual increase.

Argyros said: “We have seen a 73% increase in Britishvisitors since 1996, and this year we will come close to getting three million.”

Operators believe theterrorist attacks in Spain in the middle of the summer might have caused some clients to switch to Greece, but they say that the destination was already doing well before Spain’stroubles began.

Amathus Holidays sales and marketing manager Alison Jago said: “By the end of March, we had sold as many holidays as we got during the whole of the previous season, so the interest in Greece was already there at the very start of the summer.”

Quite simply, Greece offers good value for money compared to Spain, and this, together with the success of the film Captain Correlli’sMandolin, has brought it back into fashion. Argyros said the switch to pricing in euros early next summer would highlight the fact Greece is considerably cheaper than Spain.

He said: “People will be able to compare prices in the two destinations more easily, and see that they really are getting better value for money in Greece.”

Hoteliers have resisted the temptation to capitalise on this year’s success and kept rate increases down to no more than the rate of inflation.

“Prices are no more than 2% to 3% higher than this time last year,” said Argyros.

Unijet general manager short haul John Riley said only Cephalonia had sought to cash in on its current popularity.

“It has pushed up prices and, as a result, it’s the only place we feature in Greece that has seen a drop in bookings,” he said.

Operators are also taking a more cautious approach to next summer and maintaining capacity at roughly the same level as this year. Cosmos, which saw a 50% increase in bookings this summer, said it expected to carry only 5% more next year.

Shane said: “We don’t want to be too ambitious, but we can always expand later if there is enough demand.

Food for thought:the Greek tourist office is promoting the country’s year-round appeal by offering cash incentives to operators