Greek hotels seek tourists, but reject refugees

The Hilton Athens has been sold
The Hilton Athens

Greece’s tourism minister is predicting a record year of arrivals this summer as the country looks to tourism to drive its economic recovery. 

At the same time, hoteliers in the Greek islands have been criticized for turning down requests by aid and humanitarian organizations to rent rooms to the asylum-seekers who are continuing to come into the country, which is at the forefront of the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development reported in June that, after a “prolonged depression,” the economy in Greece stabilized in 2016 and gross domestic product was projected to grow 1.1 percent in 2017 and 2.5 percent in 2018.

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SETE, the Greek Tourism Confederation, was optimistic for 2017, forecasting at least 26 million international tourists, up 5 percent over 2016, with tourism receipts expected to increase 12.9 percent to €14.4 billion. 

According to GBP Consulting, occupancy levels and room rates of Athenian hotels showed a positive trend in the first quarter of 2017, resulting in a 12.3-percent growth in revenue per available room. International arrivals at Thessaloniki airport increased 11.8 percent year-over-year during the period. February was particularly strong, reflected in the occupancy levels of the Thessaloniki hotel sector. Overall, RevPAR increased 10.1 percent year-over-year in Q1 2017. 

The country is hoping to lean on tourism to drive growth in the wider economy. According to a survey undertaken by SETE on what Greek citizens believe about tourism, 86 percent think tourism will help the country recover from the crisis. The contribution of the sector to employment has helped with this, with the latest ERGANI statistics showing that, in April, the net employment gain in accommodation (45,763) and catering (19,671) represented more than half of the increase in employment (125,770).

Seeking Sanctuary

Greece has found itself at the front line as refugees from Syria seek asylum, despite a deal with Turkey, which means that all asylum-seekers arriving on the Greek islands via Turkey are to be returned to Turkey. According to Amnesty International, refugees are “stockpiling” on the Greek islands. 

UNHCR data for May 2017 reported 2,110 refugee arrivals in May, and the Greek authorities estimated some 62,193 refugees and migrants to be in Greece at the end of that month, of whom 48,185 were on the mainland and 14,008 on the Aegean islands. 

The island of Chios was described by the UNHCR in particular as suffering from overcrowding, and the organization is looking to house refugees in hotels, to the objection of the local hoteliers. 

“This stance isn't motivated by racism or hatred towards foreigners,” George Misetzis, president of the island's estimated 100 hotel owners, told the local press. “If anything, our local community as a whole has been very receptive and supportive of these people and their tragedies. But we have to reclaim our top-selling product: tourism.” 

In May the UNHCR reported “increased tension in the islands of Chios and Leros…resulting in a number of security incidents generally linked to discontent from asylum-seekers and local communities, including due to uncertainty with the length of stay of refugee and migrant populations on the islands.” 

With the World Travel & Tourism Council forecasting a 7.5-percent increase in the contribution travel and tourism makes to the country’s GDP this year, both Greece’s hoteliers and its refugees are looking for resolution. 

Katherine Doggrell is an editor at Hotel Analyst, the U.K.-based news analysis service for hotel investors.