A tourist takes photos at the port of Piraeus, Greece. Agence France-Presse
Tourism, which accounts for about a quarter of Greece’s gross domestic product (GDP), will grow in 2020 despite the blow dealt to the sector last year by the collapse of British travel giant Thomas Cook, Tourism Minister Harry Theocharis said.
Greece is emerging from a decade-long debt crisis and relying on its resorts, beaches and ancient monuments to attract strong visitor numbers if it is to fully recover. Tourism employs roughly one in five people.
Revenues in 2019 grew an estimated 12-15 % from about 16 billion euros in 2018 on the back of a 4% to 5% rise in arrivals, Theocharis told Reuters in an interview.
About 33 million tourists visited Greece in 2018, the year the country exited its third international bailout.
The collapse of Thomas Cook in September left thousands of holidaymakers stranded at island resorts and dealt a significant blow to Greek hoteliers and businesses.
The impact was initially estimated at 500 million euros ($555 million) and was seen spilling over to 2020, an immediate worry for the conservative government that took office in July.
But the sector has found new contracts and replaced the lost slots, Theocharis said, adding, “Despite the ups and downs, the surprises and the hurdles, 2019 rewarded us with a positive result”.
“We are in a position to envision a new year with optimism that Thomas Cook has not left its mark,” he said. “We expect 2020 will be better than 2019.”
Greece’s target for 2020 and the years to come is an annual one-digit rise in arrivals and a two-digit increase in revenue, said Theocharis, who headed revenue collection at the country’s finance ministry at the peak of the crisis in 2013-14.
The government has been mulling changes to the sector ranging from further regulating the homesharing market to opening up the industry to sea diving tourism, which is currently restricted because of the many archaeological ruins in Greek waters.
The sector is still vulnerable to risks outside the government’s control such as a recession in Europe or turmoil in the Middle East, Theocharis said. Climate change is a long-term challenge, he said, and Greece is studying its estimated impact.
“Greece has a strong brand and can win a big share of the market as long as economic and other conditions allow it.” Meanwhile, Greece launched on Thursday the sale of a majority stake in state-controlled gas utility DEPA’s wholesale and retail business, its privatisation agency said.
The Greek government is selling a 65% stake in DEPA Commercial as part of the terms of the country’s final EU/IMF bailout.
Hellenic Petroleum, Greece’s biggest oil refiner holds the remaining 35% stake in the gas utility.
According to the tender document published by the privatisation agency, the preferred investor will also have the option to acquire Hellenic’s stake in DEPA Commercial.
The agency set a March 6 deadline for the submission of non-binding bids.
DEPA has been Greece’s dominant importer of pipeline and liquefied natural gas via long-term supply contracts, and its main gas supplier, with more than 350,000 retail customers in the wider Athens area.
Under its latest bailout which expired in 2018, Greece agreed to further privatise DEPA to help open up the market.
To achieve that, DEPA will be broken up in DEPA Commercial for wholesale and retail activities, and DEPA Infrastructure, which owns the distribution network to end-users.
Greece last year launched the sale of a 100% stake in DEPA Infrastructure, and set a Feb. 14 deadline for the submission of initial offers.
Greece is considering issuing a new, long-term bond in the coming weeks, its first attempt to tap bond markets this year, a Greek government official told Reuters.
“Greece is considering a new bond issue in the next, coming weeks,” the official said on condition of anonymity. “It will be a long term issue,” the official added, without providing further details.
Outlining its funding strategy for 2020, Greece’s debt agency PDMA said in December it could tap bond markets this year to borrow 4 billion to 8 billion euros.
Greece exited bailout programmes in August 2018 and has accumulated a cash buffer of about 32 billion euros, sufficient to cover four years of maturing debt, assuming outstanding T-Bills are rolled over.
Its main goals this year will be to improve the liquidity of its yield curve, enhance its investor base towards more real money players and maintain regular market operations, PDMA has said.
Top judge Katerina Sakellaropoulou became Greece’s first woman president on Wednesday when lawmakers elected her head of state in a rare display of unity.