Tourism to the rescue for Greece

Tourism will help Greece rebound: Minister

Olga Kefalogianni, Greek Minister of Tourism, talks about the sector’s “record year,” and how the country plans to increase and diversify its offerings for tourists.

Greece’s tourism sector will grow by 10 percent in 2014 and will help spur the country’s ailing economy, Olga Kefalogianni, the Greek minister of tourism, told CNBC on Monday.

Kefalogianni said she was optimistic for next year after a successful 2013 in terms of tourism, and said she hoped the country could increase tourist numbers and revenue by 10 percent next year.

(Read more: Greece: ‘Tourism bonanza’ to give economy a boost?)

The minister also emphasized that the tourism sector was aiding the government’s fiscal consolidation plans.

“The truth is that as far as tourism is concerned, we actually had a lowering of the V.A.T. in food and beverage starting from August,” she said. “This is the first time that we had a lowering of V.A.T. in any of Greece’s services. So I think this is quite a significant step forward, and we have seen that actually this has spurred demand and it will actually benefit the economy.”

Kefalogianni added: “So overall I would say that not only has tourism shown to be a very resilient sector of economy, but it is also one of the sectors that has contributed to the efforts by the Greek government for fiscal consolidation.”

(Read more: Greece Set for Comeback as Tourist Destination)

The national statistical authority in Greece reported that 5.42 million non-residents arrived in the country between January and June this year, compared to 4.82 million a year earlier – an increase of 12.3 percent. The data boosted government hopes that the sector will help spur economic growth in the country.

The Greek economy is in its sixth year of recession and is expected to contract by over 4 percent this year, according to the European Union and International Monetary Fund. Greece’s government has forecast that the country will emerge from recession next year, but its economic data remains weak.

Greece was one of the only countries in the euro zone to record a contraction in manufacturing activity in October, according to Monday’s Markit Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI). The data came in at a three-month low of 47.3, where a reading over 50 marks expansion. The index has been below 50 since September 2009.

However, tourism – which accounts for more than 15 percent of Greece’s gross domestic product – has always been a bright spot for the struggling southern European nation.

(Read more: Greece Bets on Tourism Turnaround)

Panos Paleologos, founder and CEO of hotel consultancy firm HotelBrain told CNBC on Monday that it had been a fantastic year for Greek tourism. He said the sector could be the vehicle that drives Greece’s eventual recovery, arguing that the country offers tourists “value for money.”

But there have been some recent disturbances in Greece that could put off some potential visitors.

On November 1, two members of the far-right political party Golden Dawn were killed in an apparent drive-by shooting in Athens. The attack followed the arrest of Golden Dawn members a few weeks earlier on suspicion of forming a criminal organization. In September, a Golden Dawn supporter was charged over the killing of Pavlos Fyssas, an anti-fascist musician,whose death sparked protests in Athens and across Greece.

Moody’s boosts Greece credit rating after fiscal progress

Greece’s financial outlook got a boost over the weekend as credit agency Moody’s increased the embattled country’s rating.

The agency moved Greece two places from from C to Caa3, citing improved results from the southern European country’s tough austerity program.

“The Greek economy is bottoming out after nearly six years of recession,” Moody’s said in the statement.

“Based on the government’s budget execution record up until October, Moody’s believes that the government’s deficit target is likely to be within reach,” it added.

Moody’s is expecting Greece to save more rather than cut, after it pledged to the so-called ‘troika’ to show a budget surplus in 2014. Greece’s budget surplus is expected to be 1.5 percent of GDP next year.

Caa3 is still considered below investment grade but the improvement is still a good sign for a government, which has promised to make Greece more competitive on international markets.

Despite the good news, the revised credit rating came during difficult negotiations between Greece and its creditors.

Roadblocks in the talks meant that negotiations over austerity measures would be pushed back more than a week.

Some of the sticking points include removing a moratorium on home foreclosures, getting a new property tax through Parliament, solutions for next year’s fiscal gap, allowing mass dismissals and determining a future for arms-maker Hellenic Defense Systems (EAS), according to Kathimerini.

Loans from the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have kept Greece solvent since its economy collapsed in 2010, along with its ability to borrow on international markets.

Greece’s economic catastrophe was marked by a series of credit ratings agencies’ downgrades.

Greece has since been propped up by a loan program worth 240 billion euros ($327 billion).

Economic growth is expected to return to Greece in 2015 after years of GDP decline.
Moody’s boosts Greece credit rating after fiscal progress