* European tourism seen up 2-3 pct in 2013
* Greece bookings rebound, Alltours sees 30 pct rise
* Emerging markets to be main driver of global tourism
By Michelle Martin and Victoria Bryan
BERLIN, March 8 (Reuters) – Tourism in Greece is bouncing back this year in an otherwise flat European market, held back by the weak economic climate, travel industry executives said.
The desire for a beach holiday closer to home for cost-conscious consumers in Europe is helping to revive tourism demand in the country, battling recession and a debt crisis.
Doerte Nordbeck from market research group GfK showed in a presentation at the ITB travel fair this week that bookings to Greece from Britain, Germany and the Netherlands for this summer were up 10 percent.
Tourism income for Greece, its chief money spinner, fell by 4.6 percent to 9.89 billion euros from January-November in 2012 according to the country’s central bank.
Arrivals from Germany, Greece’s biggest tourism market, dropped by almost a fifth, partly on fears about a backlash on German tourists caused by Berlin’s tough austerity demands on Athens.
Alltours, Germany’s No. 4 tour operator, said bookings for holidays in Greece were up 30 percent on the year by March 5, boding well for the country where tourism accounts for around one fifth of output and one in five jobs.
“The tourism industry in Greece has overcome the crisis of the last two years and is now back on top form,” said Willi Verhuven, chief executive of German tour operator Alltours.
Verhuven said the company was in particular seeing a surge in bookings from repeat customers who had ditched Greece in favour of other resorts.
Europe’s largest tour operator TUI Travel is also seeing a comeback for Greece, with bookings at the group’s German unit up 4 percent. Bookings from the UK are performing strongly, a spokesman said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who opened the ITB fair this year, called on trade fair visitors to take holidays in ailing euro zone states like Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy to help to create jobs.
“I also wish that European countries which are famous for tourism get good custom – I name Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy – all countries in which growth is really necessary at the moment and where we have to make an effort to finally get people back into work,” she said.
Globally, the tourism industry – worth an estimated $1.15 trillion last year – is expected to grow by between 3 and 4 percent in 2013, driven by up to 6 percent higher visitor numbers in emerging markets, according to latest estimates from the UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO).
It sees growth in Europe, the world’s No. 1 tourist destination, slowing to 2 percent or holding steady at 3 percent as the region’s debt and financial crisis rumbles on.
But Germany’s federal tourist association BTW forecasts growth of just 1 to 2 percent this year due to the uncertain economic environment.
“If the weak economy begins to seriously affect the employment market and domestic demand then this will also impact on the tourism industry,” group president Michael Frenzel said.
Germany’s national tourist board also sounded a note of caution. “The European financial and debt crisis is still a long way from being overcome yet,” said Klaus Laepple, president of the tourist board.
Emerging markets like China and Russia will continue to be the main driver of growth for international tourism, Rolf Freitag, head of tourism consultancy IPK, said.
Asia Pacific is seen recording the biggest increase in visitor numbers this year, with growth of between 5 and 6 percent, followed by Africa, where arrivals are expected to increase by between 4 and 6 percent, UNWTO said.
Last year, emerging market countries attracted 4.1 percent more tourists while their mature counterparts catered for 3.6 percent more travellers, according to UNTWO data. (Editing by Jane Merriman)
The capital of the country is loaded with things to do and places to stay, and it doesn’t have to cost a fortune.
A visit to the Acropolis, home of the a href=”http://odysseus.culture.gr/h/3/eh351.jsp?obj_id=2384″ target=”_hplink”Parthenon/a, is a must. For €12/$17 visitors have access to the Acropolis, ancient agora, archaeological museum of Kerameikos, Kerameikos, Museum of the Ancient Agora, north slope of the Acropolis, Olympieio, Roman agora, and the south slope of the Acropolis. For more museum fun, tickets to the a href=”http://www.namuseum.gr/wellcome-en.html” target=”_hplink”National Archaeological Museum/a are €7/$10. Both sites have a number of free admission days.
After knocking out the important stuff, there are free activities about town as well. Those traveling with children (or even kids at heart) can check out the Hellenic Children’s Museum. At the a href=”http://www.cityofathens.gr/en/municipal-art-gallery-0″ target=”_hplink”Municipal Art Gallery/a, art enthusiasts can get a taste of Greek art with works by more than 3,000 artists or take a free guided tour of archaeological and cultural sites.
Stop by Parliament to watch the changing of the guard (yes, they’re wearing skirts). Afterwards, visit the local market and pick up food to eat in the national gardens.
strongWhere to Stay/strong: Located in the center of Athens, three-star a href=”http://www.plakahotel.gr/” target=”_hplink”Plaka Hotel/a is just a short walk from many of the city’s major attractions. Rates, including full buffet breakfast, run from €90-232/$130-336. Its sister hotels are also a good value: Hermes Hotel (€75-232/$108-336) and Athens Center Square Hotel (€65-95/$94-138).
It may be in a less refined area of town, but a href=”http://www.centrotel.gr/” target=”_hplink”Centrotel Hotel/a offers good rates as well. Verify rates online, but for three nights in October a small double room starts at €60/$88 per night.
strongGetting There/strong: This one’s easy – fly into Athens International Airport and hop a cab, or the metro or city bus.
Photo: a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/eguidetravel/3286442581/” target=”_hplink”eguidetravel/a/Flickr
The second largest city in Greece, Thessaloniki is located in the Central Macedonia in the northern part of the country. An economic, industrial, political and commercial hub, it has a rich history, once sitting on the main land route from Europe to Asia.
Thessaloniki takes pride in its churches, built during the Byzantine era. Visit places like Agia Sofia, a href=”http://odysseus.culture.gr/h/2/eh251.jsp?obj_id=1671″ target=”_hplink”Agios Dimitrios/a, the Church of Panagia Acheropoietos and more, all for free.
Aside from the requisite a href=”http://odysseus.culture.gr/h/1/eh151.jsp?obj_id=3332″ target=”_hplink”Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki/a (€6/$9), the city is home to many art museums. For instance: a href=”http://www.tf.auth.gr/teloglion/default.aspx?lang=en-USpage=448″ target=”_hplink”Teloglion Foundation of Art/a at Aristotle University, the a href=”http://www.greekstatemuseum.com/kmst/index.html” target=”_hplink”State Museum of Contemporary Art/a, the a href=”http://www.mmca.org.gr/mmst/en/home.htm” target=”_hplink”Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art/a (€4/$6) and the a href=”http://www.thmphoto.gr/index.asp?lng=en” target=”_hplink”Museum of Photography /a(€2/$3).
The a href=”http://www.mbp.gr/html/en/pirgos.htm” target=”_hplink”White Tower of Thessaloniki/a is the symbol of the town, originally built buy the Ottomans to fortify the town harbor. It now houses an exhibit by the Museum of Byzantine Culture presenting aspects of Thessaloniki’s history. Admission to the museum is €4/$6.
strongWhere to Stay/strong: For unbelievably low rates, head for the a href=”http://www.okhotel.gr/” target=”_hplink”Orestias Kastorias Hotel/a. Even with a killer location – a 10 minute or less walk to most major sights – single rooms run from €38-54/$55-79, double rooms from €49-64/$71-93, and triple rooms from €59-77/$86-112.
a href=”http://www.hotelelgreco.gr/home.aspx” target=”_hplink”El Greco Thessaloniki Center Hotel/a also keeps it reasonable. Rates vary, but in October guests can expect to pay rates starting at €72/$105 for a standard double, €75-82/$109-119 for a standard triple, and €120/$175 for a family room.
strongGetting There/strong: Fly a U.S. carrier to Athens and take a regional flight to Thessaloniki. Or, fly an international carrier and connect at its European hub for Thessaloniki.
Photo: a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/deepphoto/3940588508/” target=”_hplink”d_proffer/a/Flickr
Though it served as the backdrop for the movie Mamma Mia, Skopekos is still a somewhat uncharted island when it comes to tourist traffic. That’s likely why movie producers chose its Kastani Beach as the setting for the 2008 movie. That, and the typically Greek panorama of tile-roofed, whitewashed buildings set against the sea probably didn’t hurt either.
Besides relaxing on the beach, a href=”http://www.skopelosweb.gr/skopeloscycling/index.html” target=”_hplink”mountain biking/a is a way to experience Skopolos, which is more than half-covered with hilly terrain. Also pay a visit to a href=”http://odysseus.culture.gr/h/3/eh352.jsp?obj_id=2442″ target=”_hplink”Meteora/a to see the rock columns. Atop these geological oddities rests one of the largest complexes of Eastern Orthodox monasteries in Greece. Some of the structures at this UNESCO World Heritage site date back to the 16th century. The monasteries charge only a small fee for visitors, something in the neighborhood of €2/$3.
In Skopelos Town, the a href=”http://www.skopelos.net/culture/museum.htm” target=”_hplink”Folk Art Museum/a costs just a few Euro and offers a glimpse into an 18th century Greek mansion and other facets of Greek life.
strongWhere to Stay/strong: At Skopelos Town, and just steps from the sea, a href=”http://www.princestafilos.gr/” target=”_hplink”Hotel Prince Stafilos/a offers classic doubles (€80-130/$115-188), two connected rooms (€140-190/$203-275), triple attic rooms (€110-155/$159-225) and suites (€150-195/$217-283), all with an “American” buffet breakfast.
Or, rent a fully furnished apartment at a href=”http://www.hovoloapartments.gr/” target=”_hplink”Hovolo Apartments/a in Neo Klima Village. Rates vary, but a basic apartment for two to three adults in October can go for €42/$61 per night, and an apartment for four adults is €56/$82. The apartments have full kitchens, but a breakfast buffet is included.
strongGetting There/strong: From the Athens International Airport take a bus or taxi to an agency like a href=”http://www.alkyontravel.gr/?VIEW=INNERID=21″ target=”_hplink”Alkyon Travel/a to get a hydrofoil or ferry from the Port of Piraeus to Skopelos.
Photo: a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/cod_gabriel/1540913532/” target=”_hplink”cod_gabriel/a/Flickr
Mykonos has a reputation as a pretty rowdy vacation scene, so it’s a good bet for those looking for more of a party vacation. At the beach, it’s all about parties on sandy stretches like Psarrou Beach and Paradise Beach. a href=”http://www.paradiseclub-mykonos.com/” target=”_hplink”Paradise Club/a is just one party hub, with the action continuing into the early hours of the morning. Just be conscious of nighttime cover charges, which can get pricey.
There are a handful of museums on the island: the a href=”http://odysseus.culture.gr/h/1/eh151.jsp?obj_id=3301″ target=”_hplink”Archaeological Museum of Mykonos/a (€2/$3), the Aegean Maritime Museum and the Mykonos Folklore Museum (free). Be sure to pay a visit to the island’s iconic windmills – 16 of them built by Venetians in the 16th century.
The nearby island of Delos adds more attractions to the mix. It is heralded in mythology as the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis, though it was a sacred space long before. Check out the ancient ruins for only €5/$7.
strongWhere to Stay/strong: Located above the School of Fine Arts in Mykonos Town, eco-friendly a href=”http://www.andrianis.com.gr/index.html” target=”_hplink”Andriani’s Guesthouse/a is entirely solar powered and is only a five-minute walk to the town center. Rent a double room (€48-102/$70-148), double studio (€58-112/$84-163), triple room (€72-141/$105-205), triple studio (€78-150/$114-218) or an apartment (€92-190/$134-277).
a href=”http://www.psarougarden.com/index.htm” target=”_hplink”Psarou Garden Hotel/a is located on a bay in the town of Psarou. Book a single room (€72-136/$105-198), double room (€90-170/$131-248), triple room (€108-205/$157-299) or an apartment (€130-246/$189-358) all with breakfast.
strongGetting There/strong: Mykonos Island National Airport can be reached by Aegean Airlines and Olympic Air from Athens. Or, travel by water from Piraeus.
Photo: a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/spunter/277567796/” target=”_hplink”Steve Punter/a/Flickr
The island of Samos is located just off the coast of Turkey in the northern Aegean, and ferry boats between them offer visitors two vacations for the price of one.
After hitting the beaches (of course) there are archaeological sites to be visited. Legend has it Samos is the birthplace of the goddess Hera (Zeus’ wife) and guests can visit the ruins of a sanctuary built in her honor, the a href=”http://odysseus.culture.gr/h/3/eh351.jsp?obj_id=2366″ target=”_hplink”Heraion/a. Along with the Pythagoreion, the ancient city, complete with archaeological museum, these ruins also made the UNESCO World Heritage list. Then there’s Eupalineio, a tunnel running through the mountains that was constructed to bring water to the city.
Samos is also a popular jumping-off point for day trips to Ephesus, in Turkey, via the Turkish resort town of Kusadasi – with a long list of its own things to do.
strongWhere to Stay/strong: Each of the 55 rooms at a href=”http://www.gagoubeach.gr/” target=”_hplink”Samos Gagou Beach Hotel /ahas a view of the Aegean Sea. Rates vary, but in October, stay in a double for one for €30/$44, a double for two €48/$70 or a triple for €58/$84. A 5 percent discount is also available for those who prepay.
In southwest Samos, a href=”http://www.kerkis-bay.com/” target=”_hplink”Kerkis Bay hotel/a is set in a small fishing village. Stay in a single (€31-40/$45-58), double (€37-58/$54-84), triple (€52-62/$76-90) or a suite (€58-88/$84-128).
strongGetting There/strong: The best bet is to arrive via Athens to Samos International Airport.
Photo: a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/dalesboy/4729369277/” target=”_hplink”tony_bev2000/a/Flickr
Santorini is part of a group of islands that are the remnants of a volcanic caldera in the south Aegean Sea.
Of course the historic destinations are there: a href=”http://odysseus.culture.gr/h/3/eh351.jsp?obj_id=2454″ target=”_hplink”Ancient Thera/a is located at the peak of Mesa Vuono and was inhabited from the 9th century BC until the 8th century AD; the preserved ruins represent both the Roman and Hellenistic periods. a href=”http://odysseus.culture.gr/h/3/eh351.jsp?obj_id=2410″ target=”_hplink”Akrotiri/a is even older, dating back to the 4th millennium BC and was once one of the Aegean’s main urban centers. There’s also the a href=”http://odysseus.culture.gr/h/1/eh151.jsp?obj_id=3325″ target=”_hplink”Prehistoric Thera Musuem /aand the Thera Archaeological Museum. The museums have entry fees of €3/$4 and a ticket package at Akrotiri is €8/$12.
For just a few euros, wineries like those at a href=”http://www.domaine-sigalas.com/Domaine-Sigalas-winery.html” target=”_hplink”Domaine Siglas/a, a href=”http://www.boutari.gr/?TGVmdE1lbnU9Niw5JkxBTkc9RU4mUGFnZUlkPTEy” target=”_hplink”Boutari Winery/a or Antoniou Winery offer tours and/or tastings of island wines, made unique by the volcanic soil. Or, adventurous types can get a view of the Santorini volcano by hiking along its rims from the town of Fira to Oia.
strongWhere to Stay/strong: The a href=”http://www.vmathios.gr/” target=”_hplink”Hotel Village Mathias/a offers a plethora of options for Santorini travelers. On the less expensive end of the spectrum are standard doubles (€65-99/$95-144), superior doubles (€75-120/$109-175) and triple rooms (€88-135/ $128-197). Packages are available that include breakfast, dinner, car rental and round trip ferry tickets starting at €260/$379 per person.
Reasonable rates are also available at a href=”http://www.seaside.gr/location.htm” target=”_hplink”SeaSide Beach Hotel/a: Single room (€50-90/$117-131), apartment double (€60-110/$87-160), maisonette (€70-120/$102-175) and suite (€80-140/$117-204).
strongGetting There/strong: Hop a flight on Aegean Airlines or Olympic Airlines from Athens to Santorini National Airport. Or, take a metro, bus or taxi from the Athens Airport to the Port of Piraeus and take a ferry to the island.
Photo: a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/tomsaint/3331768830/” target=”_hplink”Rennett Stowe/a/Flickr
For history buffs, the eastern Aegean island of Rhodes should be famous for the Colossus of Rhodes. This massive statue of the god Helios once watched over the city of Rhodes’ harbor as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient world.
There is no charge to enter and explore the streets of Old Town, which is touted as the oldest continually inhabited medieval town in Europe. But, a mere €10/$14 will allow access to the a href=”http://odysseus.culture.gr/h/1/eh151.jsp?obj_id=3312″ target=”_hplink”Archaeological Museum of Rhodes/a, the Collection of the Church of Panagia tou Kastrou, the Decorative Arts Collection and the Palace of the Grand Masters. Going further back in time, there’s also the a href=”http://odysseus.culture.gr/h/3/eh351.jsp?obj_id=2599″ target=”_hplink”Acropolis of Rhodes/a that’s always worth a look, at no charge at that.
For those looking to take it easy, visit the Municipal Baths or Yenni Hamam located on Arionos square in the old town. Though they inhabit a 7th Century Byzantine structure, they have been upgraded to fit our modern times. Pay only €2-3/$3-4 to sit under domed roofs, segregated by sex of course, and marinate in steam.
Where to Stay: Located in Rhodes’ new town, a href=”http://www.anastasia-hotel.com/aboutus.htm” target=”_hplink”Hotel Anastasia/a is a small family hotel in a 1930s villa. Single rooms rage from €30-41.50/$44-60, double rooms from €35-55/$51-80, triple rooms from €40-60/$58-87, and quad rooms from €50-70/$73-102.
Likewise, the a href=”http://www.spothotelrhodes.gr/rates.php” target=”_hplink”Spot Hotel /ais a good bargain on the island: singles from €45-50/$66-73, doubles from €50-90/$73-131, triples from €100-130/$146-189, and connecting triples from €120-150/$175-218.
Getting There: Fly from Athens on a regional carrier, or hop a ferry.
Photo: a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/davidden/84258488/” target=”_hplink”DavidDennisPhotos.com/a/Flickr