Greek Bias Against Gays Compounds Tourism Gap


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Greece Debt Crisis Hitting Tourism

Kostas Tsironis/Bloomberg

Spending by non-residents in Greece increased 12.6 percent in the first half of the year compared with the first six months of 2010, the Bank of Greece said.

Spending by non-residents in Greece increased 12.6 percent in the first half of the year compared with the first six months of 2010, the Bank of Greece said. Photographer: Kostas Tsironis/Bloomberg


Enlarge image

Greece Debt Crisis Hitting Tourism

Kostas Tsironis/Bloomberg

Tourists sit in a coffee shop at the foot of the Acropolis hill in Athens.

Tourists sit in a coffee shop at the foot of the Acropolis hill in Athens. Photographer: Kostas Tsironis/Bloomberg

Debt-ravaged Greece’s biggest
industry is missing income from a group of visitors that spends
more than $140 billion a year.

Gay and lesbian tourists, who for decades flocked to the
islands of Mykonos and Lesbos, have removed Greece from their
list of top destinations because of discrimination, according to
surveys by Amsterdam-based OutNow Consulting. The government
says it intends to boost tourism and will change the law so
Greece follows France and the U.K. in recognizing same-sex
partnerships.

“Rights do not cost much in terms of finances, but they do
a lot to promote the countries that adopt them,” said Martin
Christensen, co-chairman of ILGA-Europe, a Brussels-based rights
group. “If Greece opens marriage to same-sex couples, the
international media will for once give the country good press
that would boost morale and can increase revenue.”

Tourism accounts for one in five jobs and about 16 percent
of the Greek economy, which the European Commission forecasts
will shrink 3.8 percent this year after a 4.4 percent
contraction in 2010. Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos said
on Aug. 3 that spending by vacationers will be a main driver of
Greece’s return to prosperity.

Spending by non-residents in Greece increased 12.6 percent
in the first half of the year compared with the first six months
of 2010, the Bank of Greece said Aug. 18. Greece’s debt pile
stood at about 43 percent more than the size of the economy.

Timely Law

“Given their propensity to spend a higher share of their
wallet on travel and entertainment, then a Greek strategy to
appeal to gay visitors is sensible and perhaps timely,” said
Bob Witeck, who runs Witeck-Combs Communications, a Washington-
based firm advising clients on marketing to gay households.

While the Greek Orthodox church opposes gay marriage, the
Justice, Transparency and Human Rights Ministry established in
July last year a committee to examine changing existing family
law to recognize same-sex civil partnerships.

The group’s report is being studied now and the government
aims to introduce legislation allowing the registration of gay
relationships, a ministry official said by telephone on Aug. 19,
speaking on condition of anonymity in keeping with policy.

The value of the international gay and lesbian travel
market in 2010, based on a survey of 18 countries, was $142
billion, according to the OutNow Global LGBT2020 Study of
lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender travelers.

Not Greece

Greece failed to make the list of the top 10 countries
where gay travelers were interested in taking a holiday in the
next three years, according to the survey. Athens didn’t appear
among the top 20 city destinations.

The U.S., where the District of Columbia and six states,
including New York since June, allow same-sex marriage and
France, which permits civil unions, and Spain, where gay couples
also can marry, were the top three countries. New York, Sydney
and Rio de Janeiro, with gay pride events attended by more than
4 million spectators, were the top three cities.

Changing the law to recognize gay and lesbian couples might
attract more gay visitors to Greece compared with places such as
Turkey, which also doesn’t recognize non-heterosexual
relationships, said Gregory Vallianatos, chairman of Greek
Helsinki Monitor
, the Greek national committee of the
International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights.

Balkans to Nepal

“Allowing same-sex civil partnership in Greece would set
the country way above other countries in the Balkans and eastern
Mediterranean and would certainly boost gay tourist numbers,”
Vallianatos said from his Athens office.

In drafting a new law, Greece would follow tourist
destinations as far away as Nepal.

The Supreme Court in the Himalayan country decriminalized
homosexuality in 2007, called for the introduction of equal
rights for gay and lesbians and asked for the creation of a
commission to study same-sex marriages.

“Nepal can earn good income from gay and lesbian visitors
as they spend more and travel more frequently than their
straight counterparts,” said lawmaker Sunil Babu Pant, who also
heads Nepal’s Blue Diamond Society gay rights group. “Gays are
also willing to support those countries that are gay-friendly.”

Greece’s Ministry of Tourism and Culture for the first time
advertised the Athens Gay Pride this year. The ministry, which
didn’t subsidize any of the events, included the “Athens
Rainbow Week’
’ in its highlights on the web site of the Greek
National Tourism Office.

Pink Pounds

OutNow research based on actual spending shows that in
2006, the first full year of civil partnerships in the U.K., the
economy was boosted by 130 million pounds ($212.9 million) from
spending on rings, receptions and honeymoons.

It represents “a large and growing pool of new consumer
spending
which economies such as Greece would do well to
position for,” said Ian Johnson, who runs OutNow, which works
with the German National Tourism Office, Switzerland Tourism,
Madrid Tourism and the Stockholm Visitors Board.

About 75 percent of gay travelers will seek a hotel that
welcomes same-sex couples, according to Hannah Burden,
spokeswoman for the Thomson, Thomson Cruises and First Choice
holiday brands of Tui Travel Plc (TT/), the U.K. majority-owned unit
of Germany-based Tui AG (TUI1) and Europe’s largest tour operator.

Thomson last year started marketing vacations for gay and
lesbian travelers, including wedding packages to the Spanish
island of Ibiza. The company uses the GayComfort Certified
accreditation system, developed by OutNow and endorsed by the
International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association.

“There is definitely a segment in the gay community that
spends their vacation money on destinations that are supportive
of the community,” said John Tanzella, CEO of the Fort
Lauderdale
, Florida-based association. Greece “could absolutely
increase its revenues,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story:
Paul Tugwell in Athens at
[email protected]

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


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