What we dare not say about tourism and Thessaloniki
Thessaloniki is one of the few regions of the country where the numbers with which it closed 2022 compared to 2019, that is, before the pandemic, do not exactly inspire optimism.
The hoteliers of the city, already in October, were saying: Thessaloniki is losing ground in tourism, when the rest of Greece is increasing in terms of tourism. Worrying signs that Thessaloniki lacks recognition as a destination, with reduced airport arrivals and reduced hotel occupancy, compared to 2019.
At the end of the year came the bad predictions of a drop in arrivals:
Passenger traffic at the “Macedonia” airport is still lower than in 2019, with 5.5 million passengers served in the eleven months, a reduction of 14.5% compared to the corresponding period of 2019.
As for road arrivals, the blankets were just as bad. According to INSETE, in the January-September period, the greatest decrease in absolute miscellaneous items is recorded at the Promahonas station, where in the mentioned period they amount to 1.4 million, registering a decrease of -1.7 million/-55.2 %, while in percentage differences the greatest decrease is registered in the Nymphaea station where the decrease amounts to -69.6%/-1 million while 440 thousand arrivals are registered. Finally, arrivals by road at the Evzones border station amounted to 1.9 million, while a decrease of -282 thousand/-12.8% was registered.
The Balkans moved to another place and the Russians and Ukrainians due to the war were missing us.
If you listen to the reasons of the authorities, you will believe that Thessaloniki flies for tourists.
But this is not the case in reality. Due to a series of problems that remain current and unresolved for years.
In his article on the future of tourism in the city, in parallax from December 2018, Mayor Konstantinos Zervas wrote:
“Thessaloniki seems to be a cheap mass tourism destination. And it is that the efforts made with the objective of increasing arrivals to our city, were not combined with initiatives and plans to attract tourists with a higher economic profile, they were not combined with the improvement of the infrastructures and the image of the city. And how could it be otherwise, since the city, especially in recent years, is once again falling into obsolescence and abandonment.
There is no infrastructure, traffic and transport are a Gordian link, in terms of cleanliness we are below the base, we do not have any vegetation (the 1.6 square meters of vegetation per inhabitant is perhaps a negative pan-European record with the WHO saying that the acceptable European minimum is 10 m2.
When we talk about tourism, all open issues are or should be on the table. From the big ones -Metro, airport, urbanism- to the simplest ones from day to day -garbage containers, lighting, security, green areas”.
One term after all this, what has changed for the better? Almost nothing.
A series of serious problems do not seem to find their way to their solution. Let’s see the main causes:
– The fragmentation of those responsible for promoting tourism in the city
Instead of there being a metropolitan organization that deals with the tourism promotion of the city, there are many different agencies, organizations and people that operate alone and often in competition and without a common project, so we see controversial efforts without a common objective that would achieve much more effective objectives. Each agency implements its own actions consuming both human and capital resources to produce a partial result, which is not linked to the corresponding actions of other agencies, says Yiannis Aslanis, Chairman of the Board of Thessaloniki Convention Bureau, rightly.
Arriving at an international airport requires transportation to get to the host city. In Thessaloniki there is a city bus every 35 minutes that fills up in less than a minute and taxis. There is no provision for the Metro to get there when it is finished and of course there is no provision for shipping even though it is at sea in a closed bay.
The city itself has a major internal transportation problem, with the troublesome OASTH its only mode of public transportation and a legendary subway that began as a project in 1976 and awaits its unknown future completion.
For a large number of destinations the traveler must reach Thessaloniki via Athens, as there are no direct connections.
Thessaloniki remains blocked by air from the US, but also from many other markets around the world with transatlantic flights. Even flights to the Middle East have stopped.
The ferry connection between Thessaloniki and the islands beyond the Sporades and Lesbos is non-existent. Therefore, it is perfectly logical that those who decide to spend their holidays on a Greek island travel directly to Athens and through the “El. Venizelos” to go to Piraeus to board the ship for its final destination.
The recognition of Thessaloniki as a destination for the organization of conferences and events is low, however, it is a city with great potential to develop in this field, according to research carried out by the “American College of Thessaloniki” (ACT) in collaboration with the Office of the “Thessaloniki Convention”. Of the survey participants, 35% did not know that Thessaloniki organizes conferences!
-The weaknesses of the city.
In a survey of hoteliers in 2018, the weaknesses had already been identified: Public cleanliness and vegetation, Mass Transportation, air pollution, squares, sidewalks and noise pollution, the feeling of safety in the city, the lack of road signs, the lack of there are enough places in the city to guide them, the lack of parking, the dirty streets, the traffic jams, the state of the public toilets, the monuments closed in the evenings, the lack of a type of city pass for which he like to see in the city.
Unfortunately, Thessaloniki is still a failure in terms of infrastructure, planning and treatment. It never managed to raise its head after the war in Yugoslavia, its de-industrialization and degradation.
It is treated as a second class city and it shows in the tourist attraction. Of course, not only the central authority is responsible, but also your local rulers who claim to be trying but actually prove their inadequacy every day. The new utopia is called filling the city with rooms for tourists. A bubble that sooner or later will deflate and people will find themselves desperate…
*The text was written for an investigation by news247
Image: Yannis Simitopoulos