Record Swiss franc sends Swiss on holidays to Greece


ZURICH |
Fri Jul 22, 2011 7:47am EDT

ZURICH (Reuters Life!) – Holidaymakers don’t come happier than 39-year-old Swiss private banker Andreas Pletscher, who has just saved 2,000 euros ($2,840) on a two-week family holiday to Greece.

Wallets stuffed with the single currency, the Swiss are shunning Alpine resorts and flocking abroad. Sovereign debt woes in the euro zone have driven the safe-haven franc up some 6 percent against the single currency so far this year, after a rise of more than 15 percent in 2010.

“It’s substantially cheaper. We’ve saved about a fifth,” Pletscher said, smiling as he handed over his passport to check in for a flight to the Greek city of Patras. He plans to spend the extra cash on meals out and shopping.

Although the strong franc is a boon for tourists, it has prompted squeals from retailers and hoteliers, who see their profits disappearing into the tills of foreign competitors.

Exporters say they are close to breaching the pain threshold, and have lowered prices to keep orders afloat. Some companies are making staff work longer hours for the same wage, while others warn they may start paying employees in euros to control costs.

“The euro is hurting us more than the financial crisis,” Guglielmo Brentel, head of the Swiss Hotel Association told the NZZ am Sonntag.

Since 2008, the cost of holidaying in Switzerland has risen by a fifth for tourists from the euro zone, while Britons can now reckon with prices that are 35 percent more expensive, consultancy BAK Basel said, forecasting a fall in overnight stays from foreign visitors of 2.6 percent this summer.

In some of the worst affected Alpine regions, hoteliers are trying to lure holidaymakers from the single currency bloc by quoting prices in euros at a conversion 20 percent below the current market rate.

BARGAINS OVER THE BORDER

Not only for holidays are the Swiss splashing their cash abroad. About 70 percent of consumers have shopped across the border in the past year according to consultancy Fuhrer Hotz.

Retailers estimate they are losing about 2 billion francs a year from so-called “shopping tourists.”

Swiss supermarket chain Migros plans to halve the floor space in a Basel shopping center store, given the lack of customers. Newspaper pictures depict eerily deserted aisles.

And it seems to be a one-way street.

The number of foreign drivers filling up on cheaper petrol is also down, according to reports, because the weak euro erodes the price advantage of getting fuel in Switzerland.

Last week economy minister Johann Schneider-Ammann prompted outrage from retailers for sympathizing with shoppers who hop across the border to stock up on cheaper food and clothing.

But Manuel Calvo, a trader at a bank who deals daily with the tumbling euro, said shops are wrong to blame consumers for hunting for value.

“It’s true, Swiss shops are suffering extremely under the strong franc. But they’re not lowering the prices,” Calvo, 30, said as he headed off on holiday to Mallorca.

“We’d be stupid if we didn’t go shopping abroad.”

UNPATRIOTIC

Responding to industry woes, the government increased funding for tourism advertising earlier this year, but has since held off implementing further measures.

Nevertheless, politicians are keen to set a good example. Tabloid Blick am Abend published photos of prominent parliamentarians enjoying the Swiss mountains and lakes.

But such photos are unlikely to cheer Switzerland Tourism Chief Juerg Schmid, who finds the exodus of holidaymakers downright dispiriting.

As tens of thousands of Swiss jetted off to foreign climes last weekend to start the school holidays, Schmid urged his compatriots to think of domestic jobs and holiday at home.

“The trains are efficient, you get the room you’ve booked, every mountain has a train up it and everything is clean” he told Sunday tabloid Sonntagsblick.

Yet even the prospect of having to endure strikes and disorder in Greece is failing to lessen the attraction to the order-loving Swiss.

Bookings to the Mediterranean hot-spot are up more than 20 percent, while holidays to Spain have risen by double figures, said Peter Brun, spokesman for Swiss travel group Kuoni.

Competitor TUI Suisse has laid on 14 extra flights over the summer season to the most popular destinations — among them Kos, Crete and Cyprus — to cater for the growing demand, TUI Suisse spokesman Roland Schmid said.

“Depending on departure date, prices are now up to 30 percent cheaper than last year due to the favorable dollar and euro.”

(Editing by Paul Casciato)


Greek Champions Become Job Seekers as Olympics Funding Dries Up

August 05, 2011, 8:40 AM EDT

By Natalie Weeks

Aug. 5 (Bloomberg) — Greek athletes may have to abandon training and start looking for jobs as the financial crisis slashes sports funding in the birthplace of the Olympics.

“Athletes are being forced to stop because they can’t get by financially,” said Stella Lazarou Tigka, the president of the Vouliagmeni Nautical Association, a sports club in a seaside resort south of Athens. Eight of its members were on the 13- strong national women’s water polo team that won the gold medal last week at the FINA World Championships in Shanghai.

Greece can no longer afford to support athletes while they train. With the country in its third year of recession, state spending on sports has been slashed. Funds to the Greek Olympic Committee for 2009-2012 were cut to 8 million euros ($11.3 million) from 30 million euros in the previous four years, Hellenic Olympics Committee President Spyros Capralos said.

Austerity measures pledged by the government in exchange for a 110 billion-euro May 2010 bailout plan from the European Union and International Monetary Fund may make matters worse. Beyond hurting the competitiveness of its athletes at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, the biggest economic upheaval in a generation may put Greece decades behind as discretionary spending on activities such as sports is deemed not a priority.

“It’s an easy option; sports or culture are usually the ones that have their budgets cuts,” said Alan Seymour, a professor at the University of Northampton in the U.K. “People may get a negative perspective on extra funding to elite sports.”

Seeds Sown

Greece spent more than 11 billion euros to host the Olympic Games of 2004 — double its initial budget — building gleaming stadiums and sports arenas at more than a dozen sites and sowing the seeds of the current financial crisis. Its budget deficit widened to a euro-area record for the time of 7.5 percent of gross domestic product.

The current austerity measures are aimed at scaling back the budget gap to 1.1 percent of GDP in 2015 from 10.5 percent last year. With unemployment set to average 14.5 percent this year, austerity measures prompted violent protests in Athens.

The GDP, which contracted 4.4 percent in 2010, will shrink a further 3.8 percent this year, according to a report from EU and IMF inspectors in July. The nation’s debt load will peak at 161 percent of GDP next year. It’s already the biggest in the euro region’s history.

“This is a time of unprecedented fiscal effort and we have to cut funding all around,” Prime Minister George Papandreou told his Cabinet on July 26.

Feeling the Pain

Funding to athletic federations was cut 24 percent from 2009 to 40.4 million euros in 2011, the budget of the Culture and Tourism Ministry’s General Secretariat for Sport shows.

“State funding is down but in the situation the country is in, it would be provocative for it not to be,” said Antonios Dimitrakopoulos, president of the Hellenic Sailing Federation.

Greece called off hosting the 2013 Athens Deaflympics and the multisport Volos Mediterranean Games in the port city north of the capital for a lack of funds. Some athletic groups have shut down, unable to cover operating costs.

The Vouliagmeni association founded in 1937 by local sportsmen in the eponymous seaside town is beginning to feel the pain. Its open swimming center, for instance, costs 200,000 euros a year to maintain. The association has to also spend on travel and training for its champions. Many athletes train for six to seven hours a day, including weekends, requiring the club to cover their living expenses. It has done that through membership fees and state aid. Such grants are now all but gone.

‘Abuses’

“Last year, we lowered the budget and it is imperative that we keep cutting,” Lazarou Tigka said. “Reducing stipends to athletes and cutting personnel have been among the cuts. When athletes are forced to stop because they can’t get by, they will have to change direction, find a different job.”

Dependence on the state for jobs, pensions and social benefits has come to symbolize Greece’s ailing finances. Athletes were often given public sector jobs to support their training. Much of the spending on sports has been inefficient, says Panos Bitsaksis, general secretary for Sport.

“We need to examine the piles of money given to Greek sport in the past and if it had the result it should have,” he said. “Many athletes received salaries for positions they weren’t filling. There was abuse of privileges by athletes who were no longer active.”

Olympic Bid

Many of the 22 athletic halls built on the 15 Olympic sites for the 2004 Athens Games remain largely unused. Olympic Properties SA, the state-run agency that manages the venues built for the Olympics, is unprofitable. Multiple plans on using the venues to raise money have failed.

Culture and Tourism Minister Pavlos Yeroulanos told lawmakers in July last year that he’s pushing for a body that can document, plan, advise and regulate sports efficiently. When he took over the ministry in 2009, the same amounts could be allocated to sports Greece excels in, such as Marathons, and ones where it doesn’t, such as ice hockey, he said.

“We inherited huge problems,” he said. “The country would commit to an event which it hadn’t cleared funds for from the finance ministry in order to be able to host it.”

The Olympic Committee’s Capralos says athletes who qualify for the 2012 Greek delegation will participate.

“Preparation for the Olympics depends on finances,” he said. “When you don’t have enough money to send athletes to international events or training centers to prepare in the best possible way, of course it affects their performance.”

Not Eroded

Greece won two silver Olympic medals and two bronze ones at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. That compares with 16 in Athens in 2004 — including six gold medals — the second-highest since it hosted the first modern Olympic Games in the Panathenaic Stadium in 1896, winning 46 medals including 10 gold ones.

“Going back in time, all the things Olympia in Greece represents will never be eroded,” University of Northampton’s Seymour said. “History and tradition won’t just be dismissed at the press of a button because of its economic difficulties, but it’s just something they will have to wrestle with.”

–With assistance by Elenic Chrepa in Athens. Editors: Vidya Root, Karl Maier

To contact the reporter on this story: Natalie Weeks in Athens at [email protected]

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Vidya Root at [email protected]


Stronger bookings and better profits


TUI Travel’s Q3 results contrasted sharply with those of Thomas Cook where a profits decline and heavy share price fall forced the resignation of CEO Manny Fontenla-Novoa. TUI Travel CEO Peter Long, on the other hand, was able to announce stronger April-June results this week and confirmed the company expected to meet its profit expectations for the full year. The performance was “testament to our management team and our focus on exclusive and differentiated product”, Long commented in an indirect reference to Cook’s problems. “For the summer, our overall volumes left to sell are in line with the prior year and we are confident of meeting our expectations for the full year in what is a challenging trading environment,” he declared.

In the April-June third quarter, TUI Travel increased revenues by 13% to £3.8 billion and increased the underlying operating profit by 57% to £88 million. Key factors were good performances in the UK, Scandinavia and Germany which outweighed the impact of North Africa on business, especially the heavy drop in French bookings.

In Northern Europe, covering primarily the UK and the Nordic region, Q3 revenues rose 3% to £1.23 billion and the underlying operating profit improved by 60% to £80 million. Both major markets showed “a good performance”, the company commented. In the weak British market, TUI Travel’s summer bookings are down only 1% and revenues are 3% higher on a 4% average price increase due to more sales of higher-margin holidays. Revenues and bookings are 11% higher in Scandinavia.

In Central Europe, including Germany, Q3 revenues were 21% higher at £1.27 billion but profits dropped back 19% to £26 million. Germany has a 9% revenue rise for summer 2011, with a 7% increase in bookings and a 2% average price increase. Demand is particularly strong for Turkey (+18%), Greece (+11%), Majorca (+20%) and the Canary Islands (+14%).

In Western Europe, including France, Q3 revenues were 5% higher at £782 million but losses more than tripled to £37 million. Summer bookings for North Africa have slumped 28% and more French consumers are holidaying within the country this year. In response, TUI plans to restructure its French business by merging Nouvelles Frontieres and Marmara into one company.

Meanwhile, parent company TUI AG also released Q3 figures this week, with better tourism results outweighed by a slump at shipping subsidiary Hapag-Lloyd. The group’s underlying operating profit dropped 11% to €96 million. Overall tourism turnover was 9.4% higher at €4.4 billion but profits were 11% lower at €104.5 million. TUI Hotels Resorts posted a 37% drop in Q3 profits due to lower occupancy rates at its hotels in Egypt while TUI Cruises only broke even. But Hapag-Lloyd slumped into the red due to a combination of falling freight rates and higher fuel costs, making the planned sell-off of TUI’s 38% holding this year more difficult.


Cox&Kings Q1 net up 52 pc at Rs 38 crore

MUMBAI: Tour and travel operator Cox amp; Kings today reported 52 percent growth in net profit at Rs 38 crore for the first quarter ended June 30, compared to the same period last fiscal.

Cox Kings net profit stood at Rs 25 crore in the first quarter of FY11, the tour and travel company said in a statement here.

The consolidated income from operations for the first quarter registered a growth of 28 per cent at Rs 157 crore, compared to Rs 123 crore posted in the corresponding period of the last fiscal.

“We continue to grow at a robust pace and we believe that all our offices have played a role in generating demand and tapping new markets to drive this growth,” Cox Kings Director, Peter Kerkar, said.

Cox Kings operates in 20 countries. The company has subsidiaries in the UK, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, UAE, USA, Singapore, Hong Kong, Greece and Germany, and branch offices in New York, Moscow, Taiwan,Maldives and Tahiti.

Last month, Cox Kings had announced that it will acquire UK-based Holidaybreak Plc for an estimated 312 million pounds through its wholly-owned subsidiary Prometheon Holdings.

Shares of Cox Kings today closed at Rs 220, down by 4.41 percent on the Bombay Stock Exchange.


Holiday health bills highlight insurance benefits

Category:Travel insurance
Date:12/08/2011

The average medical claim on travel insurance policies made by British tourists falling ill abroad has risen to £1,333, new research has revealed.

Analysis of 2010 claims data from Sainsbury’s Travel Insurance has revealed medical bills are most expensive in the USA , with policyholder claims averaging £4,725.

Thailand is the second most expensive country for medical attention, where bills average £1,937, with the Dominican Republic coming in third at £1,178.

The cheapest country in which to fall ill and require hospital treatment is Greece , where the average hospital visit is £422.

The travel insurance provider said the findings demonstrate just how expensive holiday illnesses and accidents can be and has urged holidaymakers to ensure they invest in good quality travel insurance.

Scott Gorman, Sainsbury’s Travel Insurance manager, warned that simply having a European Health Insurance Card will only provide the same state-provided healthcare as a resident of the country that is being visited.

“This means that should you require medical attention you may face huge medical bills, which is a concern, especially in countries such as the United States where the cost of medical treatment can be extortionate,” he added.

“It has been widely reported that healthcare costs are rising far faster than the rate of inflation, not just in the UK but in other countries as well, so ensuring you have adequate cover and peace of mind while you travel abroad is more important than ever.”

The data also revealed that Spain was the country where more holidaymakers had to seek medical help than any other, followed by Turkey and Greece .

Ear infection was one of the most common reasons for seeking medical assistance abroad last year, with the average bill for inpatient treatment amounting to £320.

The most expensive hospital bills were for those who suffered a heart attack abroad, resulting in medical expenses that averaged £8,147.

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Latest Stop on the Art Circuit? Hydra, Greece

The contrast could not have been lost on the 300 or so art-world habitués who had gathered on the small island of Hydra in Greece on an early summer night. The artists Brice Marden and Maurizio Cattelan were there; so was the actress Chloë Sevigny, not to mention countless art collectors and curators. Guests were dressed in party attire suitable for a balmy Mediterranean night: shoulder-baring black dresses, linen suits, T-shirts.

They had made the trek by plane and hydrofoil for what has become one of the more coveted invitations on the art calendar: the opening party for the Slaughterhouse, an art space owned by Dakis Joannou, the Greek Cypriot billionaire and collector.

Hydra is only 120 miles from Athens, one of the easiest Greek isles to reach. In many ways it is what it appears to be: a quaint tourist island, with jewelry and gift shops and overpriced Wi-Fi cafes flanking the horseshoe-shaped port.

But the island has also become a stronghold of contemporary art. Tucked into the town are several world-class contemporary art spaces, found on the labyrinthine back streets or in repurposed commercial buildings. In addition to the Slaughterhouse, which used to be just that, there’s the Hydra School Projects, a pop-up in the local high school; and the Hydra Workshop, a gallery run by the collector Pauline Karpidas in an old ship-repair garage of a mansion once belonging to the Bulgari family. (This year’s show at the Hydra Workshop features the Los Angeles artists Matt Johnson, Frank Benson and Mark Grotjahn.)

Hydra didn’t become an art-world mecca overnight; the buzz has been building for the last few years. With the opening of Slaughterhouse in 2009, coupled with the growing influence of Hydra School Projects and Hydra Workshop, the island has earned itself a spot on the summer art tour, attracting many of the same pilgrims who go to Art Basel and biennales.

Long before the galleries and celebrity-studded openings, though, Hydra was a refuge for artists and intellectuals. The writers Henry Miller and Lawrence Durrell came to stay with the painter Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas at his family’s mansion in the late 1930s. (Miller compared the island to a “huge loaf of petrified bread” in his travel book “The Colossus of Maroussi.”)

The singer and songwriter Leonard Cohen bought a home here in the 1960s and a rush of creative types followed him: poets, artists and musicians, who thronged the open-air tavernas at night and set up communal houses in the decrepit mansions.

More recently the appeal for artists has been the large number of generous collectors who have homes on the island, sponsor artist residencies and give lavish parties. Mr. Joannou said collectors chose Hydra because of its bohemian past and its architecture, which is grander than that of most Hellenic islands. In the 18th century Hydra was filled with wealthy merchants, admirals and sea captains who built mini stone palazzos in the Venetian style, which now flank the hills around the port like couture-clad sentries.

Most of the hotels and guest houses on Hydra, a Unesco World Heritage Site, have been around for a long time but don’t seem outdated. They exude a Bohemian sensibility with their overgrown gardens and mix of minimalist-style architecture and airy interiors, casually decorated with antiques left over from the island’s heyday.

Many in the art crowd can be found at the Miranda, a converted sea captain’s mansion with 14 suites, and at the more upscale Bratsera, a minimalist boutique hotel in a former sponge factory. (Sponges were the island’s main industry in the 1940s and ’50s, as immortalized by Sophia Loren, who played a sexy local sponge-diver in the 1957 film “Boy on a Dolphin.”)

Wander Bratsera’s grounds and you will notice art projects, like the olive tree by the swimming pool covered in tiny Chinese characters, an installation by Charwei Tsai.

“Hydra is a different type of inspiring,” said Nate Lowman, a New York City artist who visits frequently. “To be able to see art exhibited on an island, a place where you can’t even put toilet paper in the toilet because it clogs, really changed my world.”

Mr. Joannou, who commutes from Athens aboard his yacht, which was decorated by the artist Jeff Koons with bright graphics, agreed.

“Hydra is not arty in the conventional way,” he said. “It’s not Williamsburg with artists living on the cheap or the Hamptons with its crazy parties. It’s a small-scale community kind of place; very friendly with groups of people going out to the tavern to eat.”

And its art scene lasts only for the summer; as soon as the cool weather rolls in come September, the island reverts to its simple, quiet self, with a population of about 3,000.

Cars, motorbikes and bicycles are banned from the island, which gives it a charmingly primitive feel. Water taxis that speed up and down the rocky coast are the main source of transportation, shuttling passengers to hard-to-reach beaches and restaurants in remote villages.

At the main port, donkeys with carnations tucked behind their ears and human-pulled trolleys wait to haul luggage and supplies up the winding cobblestone streets. It’s not uncommon to see donkeys carrying crates of valuable artwork up bumpy paths to the art spaces. (There are five garbage trucks on the island — they come out only in the wee hours — but otherwise there’s no automotive cheating.)

The slow pace of life on the island seems to have an effect on the mind. Spend a week on Hydra and normal things begin to seem conceptual. The artist Doug Aitken said an abandoned fishing barge in the middle of the harbor “resembled a perfect sculpture.” A local fisherman with a bushy handlebar mustache looked as if he had stepped out of the last century. But he had art credentials, too: he had acted in a Matthew Barney project for Slaughterhouse a couple of years ago.


Striking Greek Cabbies Say Government Must Pay for Black Market Licenses


Enlarge image

Striking Greek Taxi Drivers

Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty Images

More than 8,000 taxi drivers from across Greece gathered outside parliament on July 26 to protest.

More than 8,000 taxi drivers from across Greece gathered outside parliament on July 26 to protest. Photographer: Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty Images

When Giorgos became a taxi driver in
Athens two years ago, he did it the only way he could: by
breaking the law.

Unable to inherit a family business, he borrowed from the
bank and paid 100,000 euros ($143,010) for a license on the
black market. Now he says he may fail to meet his loan
obligations as the Greek government deregulates the taxi
industry and opens the door to new cars taking fares as part of
its commitment to a free market.

Thousands of drivers like 31-year-old Giorgos blocked
approaches to airports and disrupted ferry services in recent
strikes while demanding to be reimbursed for their illegal
licenses.

“People that bought licenses recently, which was the only
way to enter the profession unless it was passed on to you, will
lose their money,” said Giorgos, who asked that his last name
be withheld because of how he obtained his permit. “If they
want to do it this way, they should say the state is buying all
licenses for 50,000 euros.”

Greece has until this month shielded everyone from taxi
drivers and hairdressers to pharmacists and lawyers from
competition and falling prices. That protection is now giving
way to the social and economic changes in new laws promised in
return for the debt relief by the European Union so Greece won’t
lose the euro as a shared currency.

‘Soviet-Style’

The list of more than 150 occupations that were closed to
new entrants until the legislation went into effect on July 2
also included antique dealers, locksmiths, real estate agents
and print media delivery services.

“It’s a Soviet-style economy without the benefits of the
coordination and planning,” Yannis Stournaras, director general
of the Foundation for Economic and Industrial Research in
Athens, said by telephone. “Right now, the Greek economy
operates under a number of limitations that don’t exist in other
euro region countries or exist at a much lower level.”

More than 8,000 taxi drivers from across Greece gathered
outside parliament on July 26 to protest. Scuffles broke out
yesterday with officers at Piraeus, Greece’s biggest port, when
about 3,000 taxi owners tried to block access to some piers,
police spokesman Takis Papapetropoulos said.

Truck drivers led the frontline last year, staging
blockades on national highways for more than a week, preventing
delivery of raw materials and fuel to factories.

Lifting Restrictions

About 1,200 print media distributors went on strike across
Greece on July 2, causing a weeklong newspaper blackout. At the
end of the week, distributors agreed to cut their net profit
margin by 5 percentage points to 14.1 percent.

The law lifts restrictions on things such as how licenses
are issued and minimum prices. Licenses were often passed on to
family members or sold with a cash premium paid on top of the
regular transaction fee, while other professions were also
protected by the qualifications needed.

Opening up the economy was among the commitments made by
Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou to secure 110 billion
euros in emergency loans from the EU and International Monetary
Fund in May 2010. Papandreou is changing a system that was
designed to protect groups including unions, traditional
supporters of the Pasok party that was founded by his father and
that he led to power in October 2009 elections.

Greece secured a second aid package last week of 159
billion euros, which includes 50 billion euros from bondholders,
as yields on Greek 10-year notes rose to a euro-era record of
18.21 percent on July 18 and investors bet on a default.

Papandreou’s Plea

“Our position on opening up professions, with certain
rules, is clear and the same goes for the specific issue of
taxis,” Papandreou said in a July 27 speech to party lawmakers.
“I call on taxi drivers to cooperate, to consider the
consequences of strikes during the crucial tourism period.”

Tourism, Greece’s biggest industry, accounts for almost 16
percent of gross domestic product and almost one in five jobs in
the country, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council
in London.

About 14,000 of Greece’s 28,000 taxis operate in Athens,
which has a population of 3.7 million. That equates to roughly
one taxi for every 264 inhabitants, compared with about one
black cab for every 350 people in London, based on data from
Transport for London in the U.K. capital.

The Greek Taxi Federation, the group representing the
drivers, opposes opening the market and says the previous system
was designed to ensure drivers operated in the right places.

Not Closed

“Taxis service specific areas,” said Paris Kissas, the
organization’s general secretary, by telephone from Thessaloniki
on July 26. “Regulating licenses based on factors like
population or tourists that visit the area in our view doesn’t
constitute a closed profession.”

The federation is considering whether to lobby the
government for compensation for drivers who bought licenses and
won’t be able to cover their costs, Kissas said.

The government charges 3,000 euros to transfer a license to
another driver, Kissas said. On top of that, there’s the off-
the-books price to acquire the permit that reached as high as
200,000 euros in the past four years, he said.

“The current system in which you buy and sell taxi
licenses on the black market means tax evasion, which works
against everyone,” Yiannis Ragousis, the minister in charge of
transport, said in an e-mail from his office on July 25. “Tax
evasion is a big scourge for Greeks and to not open this
profession is like putting a government seal of approval on the
black economy. We are decided on these changes.”

Meeting Drivers

Ragousis is scheduled to meet representatives from the taxi
federation today, his office said yesterday.

Greece’s budget deficit widened 28 percent in the first
half of 2011, with spending exceeding targets and revenue
falling short, according to government data published on July
20. The economy is forecast to shrink 3.8 percent this year
after a 4.5 percent contraction last year, the European
Commission in Brussels said on July 4.

Deregulating professions can help combat unemployment,
which stood at 15.8 percent in April, the government said.

Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the commission, created a
taskforce this month to direct funds to help Greece become more
competitive, tackle unemployment and boost growth.

Greece ranked 83rd among 139 countries in competitiveness,
down 12 places from last year and just below Egypt, whose
president was overthrown this year, according to the World
Economic Forum’s 2010-2011 Global Competitiveness Report.

‘Chaotic, Sudden’

Some workers formerly protected by regulation agree that
change needed to happen, though they say the government hasn’t
done enough to cushion the impact on livelihoods as people adapt
to Papandreou’s austerity measures to win new international aid.

“Eliminating closed professions isn’t bad, that’s not what
we are against,” said Nikolaos Giannopoulos, who has run a
newspaper and magazine stand in Athens’s main Syntagma Square
since 1983. “The way the changes were carried through was just
completely chaotic and sudden. We are not against change but
there is no clarity on anything being done.”

Giorgos, speaking from his taxi in Athens, said he’s been
working at least 10 hours a day to cover the cost of purchasing
his license. He’s now bracing for an influx of more vehicles on
the road, operating with permits bought directly from the state.

More than 1,000 people have applied for taxi permits since
the law change because the business is lucrative, Stournaras at
the IOBE foundation said. Buying a license on the black market
was the same as any business taking a risk, he said.

“Instead of lowering the number of taxis, the government
is opening the gateway to a flood of new taxi drivers,” said
Giorgos. “It’s wrong. There are already too many.”

To contact the reporter on this story:
Natalie Weeks in Athens at
[email protected]

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Angela Cullen at
[email protected]


Bargains in Greece lead to tourist boom

Print

Monday, July 25, 2011

Sarah Kendell

Substantially cheaper holiday deals than previous years are leading large numbers of international tourists to Greece, particularly the Swiss, whose currency is looking overwhelmingly strong against the euro.

Swiss travel agency Kuoni reported an increase in travel bookings to Greece by over 20%, as holidaymakers flocked to cash in on the strength of the Swiss franc against the euro in popular sun-seeking destinations like Crete and Kos. Ongoing political unrest due to the government’s planned austerity cuts has also seen tour operators cut the prices of their summer charter flights, says TUI Suisse spokesman Roland Schmid. “Depending on departure dates, flights are now up to 30 per cent cheaper than last year”, he said.

Despite seeing revenues sink slightly last year, tourism still makes up 18% of Greece’s GDP, and accounts for one in five jobs in the economy. It has already seen a big rebound this year, with foreign arrivals up by nearly 10 percent so far in 2011, according to the New York Times.

It seems cheaper prices due to the debt crisis and its associated unrest is also attracting property buyers looking for a bargain, if TheMoveChannel.com’s latest property search stats are anything to go by. Searches for property in Greece climbed four positions in the portal’s quarterly search report, allowing it to enter the top 10 most searched for countries for the first time.

Interested in property in Greece?
Browse our listings of apartments, houses and other properties for sale in Greece here: http://greece.themovechannel.com/property/all/


Taxi strike may kill Greece tourism: operators

AFP – A two-week nationwide strike by Greek taxi owners has placed the country’s vital tourism industry under “unbearable” pressure, sector officials said on Monday.

“We appeal to taxi owners to show self-restraint at last,” the Hellenic association of travel and tourist agencies (Hatta) said in a statement on Monday.

“The damage that could be dealt is such that it will probably never be repaired,” Hatta said.

“This cannot go on any longer,” the lobby group said.

Another organisation, the Panhellenic confederation of hoteliers (Pox) added: “By shooting ourselves in the foot we might bleed to death.”

Greece’s travel sector makes up around a fifth of the recession-hit economy.

The union of taxi owners decided Sunday to escalate their strike action until the government agrees to tone down a liberalisation drive that could see thousands of new cab licenses issued.

Unionists on Monday held street protests in Thessaloniki and Patras, shut down a main highway in Athens and blocked access to the airports of Corfu and Iraklio on Crete, where riot police used tear gas to disperse them.

Greece’s police minister also appealed for an end to the strike.

“No citizen has the right to close down roads, ports and airports,” said Citizen Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis.

“This guerrilla warfare must stop, particularly now when we are at the highest point of the tourism season,” he said.

The mobilisation began after a new transport minister appointed in June ditched a plan agreed by his predecessor with unions that would have capped the number of taxi licences based on the population in each region.

The deregulation is among structural reforms demanded by Greece’s international creditors, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund in exchange for loans needed to save the country from defaulting on its debt.


When holiday operators go bust – Q&A

Hertfordshire-based travel company Dream Holidays, specialists in trips to Greece, Cyprus and Egypt, has gone bust, affecting an estimated 525 holidaymakers already abroad and 1,800 people with bookings.

Customers of Dream Holidays are protected under the Civil Aviation Authority’s (CAA) Air Travel Organisers’ Licensing (ATOL) protection scheme, so those abroad will be able to complete their holidays and return to the UK, while those yet to travel will be reimbursed. But Dream Holidays may not be the last travel company to go under this summer season so other travellers might not be so lucky. What are your travel rights?

I am a Dream Holidays customer stranded abroad. What should I do?

The CAA is working to ensure all protected customers who are overseas can stay in their accommodation until they are due to travel home. But some are being asked to pay again for their accommodation. If you are being pestered to pay, do so but keep a receipt and send a claim to the CAA on your return home so that a refund can be considered. Those customers protected under Dream Holidays’ ATOL should receive a refund.

Will I be able to fly home as planned?

The CAA will ensure that all Dream Holidays’ customers are able to fly home as planned, so you should go to the airport for your flight as normal.

I’m still worried. Can I speak to someone about this?

ATOL-protected Dream Holidays’ customers who are abroad and experiencing difficulties should contact the CAA for more information on 0044 (0)161 444 5810. Those with bookings requiring general advice about refunds under the ATOL scheme should go to the CAA website or contact the CAA on 08444 933037.

I’ve booked a holiday with a travel company that is an ATOL member. Am I OK?

The ATOL scheme protects people who buy package holidays that include a flight, through UK tour operators. Whether you’ve booked for a complete air holiday package or just a flight, ATOL protects you from losing money or being stranded abroad if the tour operator goes out of business.

Under the ATOL scheme, if your holiday operator goes bust you will get a refund if you haven’t flown yet. If you are already abroad, you will be able to continue your holiday as normal and your costs for coming home will be covered.

The CAA will try to get you on a return flight as close to your original departure time as possible, but should you need to pay for extra nights, transport and other outgoings, these will be covered if considered reasonable.

I paid for my flight with a credit card. Can I claim it back?

If you booked by credit card, you can make a claim via your card company. A part of credit card law, introduced in the 1970s and known as section 75, means credit card companies must take responsibility for refunding customers if the goods they bought don’t turn up or the supplier goes bust. The total cost of the goods you are paying for must be more than £100 and less than £30,000 for the law to apply.

I paid for my flight with a debit card, would I be protected?

Anyone who made their purchase with a Visa debit card is covered by its Chargeback scheme, which offers similar protection to section 75. To make a claim customers must contact their card issuer, which then contacts the company’s payment-processing bank to reclaim the money. This means that even if a company goes into liquidation it is possible to reclaim money, as the claim is made against a bank not the company.

My credit or debit card company is refusing to refund me

Sometimes card issuers misunderstand the section 75 and Chargeback rules and refuse a claim. Anyone in this situation should make sure they know their rights and argue their case. If all else fails contact the Financial Ombudsman.

The company I booked with does not seem to be an ATOL member but I have travel insurance. Will it cover me?

Check your policy as not all cover the collapse of travel providers.