MARCH 14, 2005
A similar (but different) story in Greece
The news that Greece wants to host a Grand Prix is not really a surprise given that the country wants to build on the benefits which were created by the 2004 Olympic Games. This boosted tourism in the country to around $1.9bn a year but the government of Kostas Karamanlis, which was elected a year ago, has big plans to develop the industry, which it sees as one of the most important driving forces behind the economy. To this end the new prime minister re-established a Ministry of Tourism at the end of last year and gave the portfolio to Dimitrios Avramopoulos, a popular former mayor of Athens.
Greece has many advantages as a tourist destination. There is a huge amount of history, a wonderful climate and, thanks to the Olympic Games, a considerable amount of new infrastructure, including fast road links, a new international airport and has seen the regeneration of downtown Athens to rid the city of its image of being dirty and dangerous. It is also one of the cheaper destinations in the Euro-zone.
"Our main goal is to strengthen Greece's image abroad," says Karamanlis, "to turn Athens into a year-round attractive tourist destination."
This is doing well but the new government also wants to expand other regions and has started with an investment of $60m in subsidies for companies building upscale facilities such as ski centres, thalassotherapy, golf courses and luxury hotels. An area that is ripe for development is the Viotia prefecture which is within easy reach of Athens. The city of Thebes is only 40 miles from the capital and there is fast access between the two cities by motorway. These are also linked to the new Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport at Spata.
The country has money to spend as it looks ahead at sprucing up the country's image. Avramopoulos was in the United States earlier this month meeting with representatives of the US film industry hoping to attract movie makers to use Greece as a back drop for their future productions.
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