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Greece Falling Behind With Olympic Accommodation

By John Hadoulis, Athens News
Reprinted by Permission

IT'S NOW official: Greece, the land that prides itself on hospitality, has trouble finding room for visitors attending the Athens 2004 Games. Two months after warning that Athens' "overall hotel situation remains uncertain with a shortage of rooms", the International Olympic Committee reprimanded Greece on January 22 over having made "hardly any progress" in securing hotel accommodation for the Games since November.

"A few more rooms were secured, but we still have a deficit of 2,800," IOC Coordination Commission chairman Denis Oswald warned. Worse still, the 2,800 rooms needed are only meant to cover the needs of "Olympic family" visitors (athletes, IOC and federation officials, sponsors, referees and accredited media - 19,000 in total). Early ATHOC transport department estimates show that Athens can expect an influx of 1.4 million spectators during August 2004. "I know that you have a number of one- and two-star hotels, but that's certainly not sufficient [for the visitors], and this raises concerns," Oswald said. The government has been conducting research of the Greek housing market since November, with the purpose of ascertaining the prospect of accommodating non-Olympic family visitors in private housing. Nothing further has been heard since then.

Instead, on January 21, the government presented the IOC delegation with alternative plans to alleviate the room shortage. One of them involves the provision of more cabins on board cruise ships in Piraeus harbour, in excess of the 3,000 Olympic family visitors already planned for this area. "This would be possible, but it raises problems that would be difficult to overcome," noted Oswald. "The transport infrastructure [to get guests to Olympic venues] would have to be bigger, more expensive, and it would be difficult to manage such a village of people." Oswald was also sceptical about Development Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos' suggestion that the Hellenic National Tourism Organisation (EOT) transform buildings under its ownership into makeshift hotels yielding a total capacity of 1,100 rooms.

"This is the first time we've heard this proposal, we have no detailed information and we're not sure whether we can count on it," he said. The situation surrounding new hotel construction is equally puzzling. In April 2001, EOT approved the extension or construction of 28 luxury hotels in Attica, and former development minister Nikos Christodoulakis said that "we [the government] are absolutely convinced that we will secure at least 9,000 new hotel rooms in the Greek capital." By January 2002, this estimate has been whittled down by almost a ninth. According to reports, the Church of Greece has recently scrapped plans to build a hotel in Kolonaki because it was unlikely to be completed in time for the Games.

Private investors are also reportedly having second thoughts about tying up money in the tourism sector when the after-effects of the September 11 terrorist strikes are still unclear. "We were told that about 1,200 rooms would be available in new hotels, but we would like to see clear signals that these hotels are going to be built," said Oswald. "If construction does not start until May, then we cannot count on these hotels being available [for the Games]... We feel that the government should make a special effort, giving incentives to business groups prepared to build hotels, and to facilitate the administrative process," he stressed.