I was reading in yesterday's Kathimerini daily that Greece

I was reading in yesterday's Kathimerini daily that Greece is (again) last on the list of preferred tourist destinations for EU visitors. Spain, France, and Italy take the bulk of the tourists, with Britain a distant fourth. Greece fails to win a respectable niche entirely and hovers at the bottom of the ladder, as always....

When you think that tourism is this country's single most important euro/foreign exchange earner, you'd think that the government would be 24/365 at it. But, hardly. The so-called Greek Tourist Organization (EOT) is a riddled repository of political appointees that suck up money for doing very little. Tourist infrastucture is decayed and without planning. Advertising Greece abroad is next to non-existent. Government-sponsored incentives are nil. Add to this the traditional dislike of the Greeks of offering courteous, organized service and you get the picture...

One of the most glaring examples of how Greece shoots herself in the foot (if not in the head) over tourism is the state of the Greek Aegean islands. These "jewels," abandoned during the winter, come to (relative) life during the summer, but only to receive largely cheapskate visitors arriving in charter flights or braving the waves in boats most of which are 30 years old or older (some improvement is occuring in this sector thanks to EU-directed deregulation).

With the exception of a handful of larger islands, like Rhodos and Kos, hospitality facilities are crummy and expensive. The islanders, having only a couple of months of lucrative trade, leave no opportunity to fleece go unexploited. Last summer, with the effects of September 11 biting deep, the situation was almost out of control, with prices going through the roof despite paltry demand. (This is another uniquely Greek phenomenon: when demand falls, prices rise.)

Some years ago I had stopped at a little village in Austria, somewhere near the Swiss border. It was late by central European standards and eating a meal looked less than probable. I stopped at a small restaurant. The last patrons were leaving. But the waitress was very polite (still wearing a VERY clean apron after a full day's work) and said I could certainly have something to eat, but pardon the cook for being unable to offer the whole menue. With the place practically closed, I was served a juicy steak with French fries and a side of onion salad, but, most importantly, the whole exercise was carried out with the smile on the part of the waitress.

After the meal (it was nearly midnight) I even found a private home that rented rooms to tourists -- and, again, I was received with a smile and led to a loft with a big double bed with crisp white sheets and a SPARKLING clean bathroom. Sheer bliss.

Sadly, I bet there isn't a Greek in Greece, involved in the "tourist industry," who can even contemplate this level of simple, yet enormously effective, service....

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