What’s worked for tourism has not for exports


With a 7.5-billion-euro bailout tranche virtually secured, Greece could settle down on Friday to watch the start of the Euro 2016 soccer tournament without any concerns about whether the loan will be disbursed. The Greek national team has not qualified for this year’s edition of the European Championships, which means local viewers will perhaps follow the event with a tinge of sadness that Greece finds itself shut out of European proceedings – a common theme in political and economic developments over the last few years.

The road to recovery for Greece (the country, rather than the soccer team) runs through its tormented economy. In the past, Greek success on the pitch (triumph at Euro 2004, qualification for Euro 2008 and quarterfinals at Euro 2012) has been the result of blending several strengths: good organization, team spirit, a strong defense and effectiveness in counter-attacks and set pieces. In contrast, Greece’s economy seems like a one-trick pony that repeatedly relies on a thriving tourism sector to get it out of trouble.

According to a report earlier this year by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), travel and tourism directly contributed 13.3 billion euros (or 7.6 percent of gross domestic product) to the Greek economy in 2015.

However, when one also takes into account the indirect and “induced” economic impact – which includes factors such as investment and the supply chain involved in providing for the tourism sector – the contribution is seen at an impressive 32.5 billion euros, which is close to a fifth of the GDP.

Tourism is largely delivering again this year. Travel receipts for the first quarter surpassed 500 million euros, matching the performance of the same period last year, aided by increases in the number of arrivals from Russia and the US, as well as the UK, France and Germany.

According to the Association of Hellenic Tourism Enterprises (SETE), international tourism arrivals at the main Greek airports grew by 6.5 percent in April year-on-year and by 7.6 percent over the first four months of the year compared to 2015.

That is not to say it has all been plain sailing. The recent protests against the privatization of Piraeus Port Authority (OLP), the refugee crisis and the general uncertainty surrounding Greece over the last few months have caused setbacks.

Turnover in the accommodation and food service sectors, for instance, fell by 11.7 percent in the first quarter of the year and hit the lowest level since the first quarter of 2013.

Nevertheless, SETE still expects foreign arrivals this year to reach 25 million, which is a rise of 1.5 million compared to the record year of 2015. Direct tourism revenues are also seen hitting a record sum of 15 billion euros.

The flourishing of the Greek tourism sector during a gruelling period for the country can be put down to a number of factors. These include the abiding appeal of Greece as a holiday destination, the instability in the region that led to travelers avoiding some foreign resorts and reduced prices, despite the repeated tax hikes.

Greece’s tourism sector is bucking the trend in the Greek financial crisis because it has managed to do certain simple things well, essentially making it the country’s most significant export by far.

The challenge for Greece, though, is to augment this by helping other sectors of its economy grow. Tourism alone cannot be the source of a decisive turnaround.

For instance, while tourism forges ahead, Greece’s exports continue to suffer. Last week, the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT) announced that the country’s trade deficit rose by 21 percent in April on the back of imports rising by 7.1 percent and exports falling by 3.8 percent. Worryingly, this was the twelfth consecutive monthly fall for exports.

Greek exporters continue to be plagued by the problems that have dogged them throughout the crisis. This includes a lack of liquidity, problems accessing finance, an unstable politico-economic environment and a lack of business-friendly measures.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) expects exports to drop by 1 percent this year before shooting up by 5.7 percent next year.

However, the Paris-based think-tank believes there must be certain preconditions for this recovery. Apart from political stability, the OECD stresses the need for reforms that will simplify regulatory procedures and ease the administrative burdens on Greek companies.

The message is that reviving the export sector will be a complicated task. There is no magic solution. The truth is that Greece’s internal devaluation, which has seen employees’ compensation fall by roughly 30 percent since 2009, has not aided Greek exports in the way that many had expected over the last few years.

Greece has gained some price competitiveness due to the sliding wages, which has helped the tourism sector, but this has not translated into a boost for exports, which face a set of more complex challenges, argues Christian Odendahl, the chief economist at the Center for European Reform in London.

“Pure price competitiveness is a flawed concept: Companies also need to invest in innovation, marketing, technology and – yes – people in order to remain competitive,” he told Kathimerini English Edition.

“Tourism is more price sensitive and does not require as much investment, since Greece is spectacular as it is. This means that in tourism, the price effect could dominate. But in other businesses, prices cannot fall fast enough to compensate for the lack of investment and innovation.”

All of which takes us back to the blend of components that helped the Greek national soccer team overachieve for so many years. If Greece wants an economic recovery, it cannot rely on just one sector, and if its exports are going to be successful then a combination of factors are needed to help the flourish. At the moment, these elements are absent on and off the pitch. Greece will have to settle for a summer of watching others prosper.



Artists lament theft of five bronze busts from central Athens park

Five bronze busts of eminent figures of the arts, politics and letters have been wrenched off their marble pedestals and stolen in two operations in the Writers’ Park of the Athens Cultural Center, bringing the total of looted statues in the open-air gallery to eight.

According to sources, the five busts were removed overnight on May 25 and 26 by unknown assailants using equipment that allowed them to saw off the heavy busts from their stands and make off with the recently restored artworks undetected.

In 2013, the busts of Domenikos Theotokopoulos, Nikos Kazantzakis and Antonis Tritsis were stolen from the same location and have never been found. It is believed they have been sold for scrap and melted down, fetching around 100-120 euros per bust.

“I have been very upset and extremely troubled since I heard of what happened,” sculptor Praxitelis Tzanoulinos, who crafted the stolen busts of Kostas Ouranis, Costis Bastias and Dimitris Horn, and worked on the restoration project, told Kathimerini.

“It despairs to me to think of the love, attention and dedication I put into those pieces just so have them end up as scrap at a foundry,” Tzanoulinos said. “For an artist, this is rape.”

Athens School of Fine Arts Professor Theodoros Papagiannis, who sculpted the stolen busts of Yiorgos Theotokas and Angelos Terzakis, also expressed his frustration over the incident.

“We are living in age of barbarism. What happened in the heart of Athens, for the umpteenth time, is proof that we are a broken country where nothing is protected. As a teacher and an artist, I am ashamed.”

Source: eKathimerini


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Location of Aristotle’s tomb to be revealed at Thessaloniki conference Thursday

An announcement regarding the tomb of Aristotle in Ancient Stageira in northern Greece was expected to be the highlight at an international conference held in Thessaloniki on Thursday.

International delegates attending the “Aristotle 2400 Years” World Congress on Thursday were expected to hear that archaeologists carrying out a 20-year excavation at the ancient Macedonian city believe the site’s most important finding to be the Greek philosopher’s tomb. Aristotle, who was born in the same city in 384 BC, died in Evia in 322 BC.

The conference is organized by the Interdisciplinary Center for Aristotle Studies of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.

SOURCE: eKathimerini


Putin concludes official visit on a religious note

TAGS:Politics, Diplomacy, Religion

Russian President Vladimir Putin wrapped up his two-day visit to Greece on Saturday with a trip to the monastic community on Mount Athos in northern Greece – a sacred site for the world’s Orthodox Christians – where he attended events, along with Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, marking the 1,000-year presence of Russian monks there, and reaffirmed the strong cultural ties binding the two nations.

On Friday, Putin and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras agreed that it was time both countries turned these much-touted historic links into tangible economic results.

Putin reiterated Russian interest in buyinge Greek railway company Trainose and a stake in Thessaloniki port – the country’s second largest – while Tsipras said Greece could serve as a bridge of understanding between Moscow and Brussels, within the context of the leftist government’s expressed intention to forge stronger relationships with countries outside the European Union and NATO.

Tsipras reiterated that strengthening ties with Moscow was a “strategic choice” for his government, while his visit to China on July 2-6 also falls within the outlook aimed at deepening economic partnerships beyond Western shores.

Putin also used the visit – just a month before the EU examines whether it will extend trade sanction against Russia over its annexation of Crimea – to display his defiance of Western critics, saying that the issue of the peninsula on the Black Sea has “closed forever.”

Tsipras repeated Greek reservations about the sanctions and insisted they were not the solution.

“We have repeatedly said that … the vicious circle of militarization, of Cold War rhetoric and of sanctions is not productive,” he said. “The solution is dialogue.”

However, given Greece’s fiscal constraints, Putin said he did not expect Athens to perform “the feats of Hercules” in the corridors of European bureaucracy.

SOURCE: eKathimerini


Putin and Tsipras seeking to profit from historic ties


Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras agreed Friday that it was time the deep and historic ties binding the two countries were manifested in further economic cooperation.

“We must transform these good relations and the emotional rapport between the two nations into tangible economic results,” the Russian leader said on the first day of a two-day official visit to Greece aimed at securing bilateral agreements in trade, investment and joint energy and transport projects.

Russia has shown interest in buying Greek railway company Trainose and the port of Thessaloniki, the country’s second largest.

Despite Russia being a major trading partner of Greece, the trade sanctions imposed by the European Union in response to the Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its support of separatists in Ukraine are biting hard on both economies.

“These are difficult times for everyone – in terms of the economy and international security,” Putin said.

“We must examine these problems and look for a solution. It is not a coincidence that an opportunity for this has arisen in Greece – a country with which we have deep and historic ties.”

Putin expressed similar sentiments when he met with his Greek counterpart Prokopis Pavlopoulos, insisting that now is the time to discuss the potential opportunities that come with closer ties and “to take specific steps” – making a point of referring to the increased flow of Russian tourists to Greece.

This visit, Putin’s first to an EU country in six months, is taking place under tight security. Roughly 2,500 police officers were tasked Friday with providing security, while the city center came to standstill as traffic was blocked.

The Russian president is accompanied by his foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, and a delegation of senior executives from state oil and gas companies – an indication of the importance the Russians are attaching to the visit, one month before the EU decides on whether to extend sanctions against Russia after July.

Tsipras, who is also looking to Russia in Greece’s bid to lure much needed foreign investment, said the strengthening of Greek-Russian relations was “a strategic choice” and that Putin’s visit coincides with a period during which “Greece has turned a page and looks to the future with optimism.”

Even though it has repeatedly expressed its reservations, Greece has begrudgingly complied with EU trade sanctions imposed on Moscow, but the government is looking for loopholes that will allow the export of Greek agricultural products to Russia that are not precisely defined in the retaliatory trade embargo that Moscow imposed on products from the EU.

Putin will visit the monastic community of Mount Athos in northern Greece on Saturday to attend celebrations marking the 1,000-year presence of Russian monks at the sacred site. Patriarch Kirill of Moscow will also be attending.

SOURCE: eKathimerini


Hermès Bursts with the Colors of Greek Nature

In Athens to oversee an exhibition of her woven artwork, Argentinian-Greek artist Alexandra Kehayoglou feels she’s bringing back her grandmother’s creative talent to its homeland.

The summer heat has arrived, making the asphalt on Stadiou Street turn sticky and the city’s unpainted facades seem even grayer under the sun. With my eyes fixed on the pavement while walking, and occasionally throwing quick glances to the side where colorful shop displays interrupt the monochrome setting, I stop at the corner with Voukourestiou Street, drawn by the beguiling view of a sandy beach. The turquoise hues of the sea extend towards the horizon and join the deep-blue sky. In the next window is a gorgeous green gorge. Captivated by the lush Mediterranean vegetation, I stand and gaze at the windows.

“This is the Samaria Gorge (in Crete),” points out Alexandra Kehayoglou, who is in Athens to oversee the placement of her woven textiles in the windows of Hermès boutique.

Born in Buenos Aires, she is the granddaughter of Greek emigrants who left Asia Minor for Argentina during World War I, finding success thanks to “grandmother Elpiniki’s loom.” Her family’s hard work on the loom bore fruit in the New World, where it led to the creation of a large and successful carpet industry.

“Born in Buenos Aires, she is the granddaughter of Greek emigrants who left Asia Minor for Argentina during World War I.”

Raised literally among carpets, Alexandra took her family’s long weaving tradition and turned it into art. “At the beginning I felt obliged to follow my destiny. My grandmother had the loom; my grandfather a successful business. I began by studying business and communication, but I dropped out after a couple of months and began my own search. I took advice from career consultants, even astrologers. Everyone told me I had to join the family business, but I was only interested in art. I didn’t want any more carpets. I wanted to set myself free. I studied fine arts at IUNA (Instituto Nacional del Arte in Buenos Aires) in my search for my own expression. I experimented with painting, photography, video, installations, and then I discovered – with the help of my father – a special weaving gun. And everything fell into place. I would continue the family tradition, through art.”

In her work, which consists of ample woven surfaces and carpets, nature looms large. Her main source of inspiration are Argentina’s pastizales(grasslands), which are fast disappearing due to intensive farming and industrialization.

“When I started working on this idea, the first thought that crossed my mind was what my grandmother Elpiniki would say about my work. As I was contemplating the legacy she left behind, I found out I was pregnant. I took this to mean something; there was a connection between my own genetic line continuing to live on, and that of nature which was dying. It was then that I became certain that my role as an artist was to capture in my work the disappearing natural landscapes.

Her work lies at the crossroads of art, design and utility. “Connected with dreams, safety and comfort, carpets emulate something archetypal.When an adult and a child sit on the same floor, something magical happens; the relationship is transformed and what obstacles exist are overcome. I also like to see the effects carpets have on people. Carpets are functional pieces, but they also need care – just like nature.”

“I wanted to set myself free. I studied fine arts at IUNA (Instituto Nacional del Arte in Buenos Aires) in my search for my own expression.”

Her big break was the autumn fashion show of Dries Van Noten in September 2011. And all thanks to social media. Her Instagram (which has 36,500 followers) became the medium through which the Belgian designer discovered her, and made her debut a reality. The rest all happened very fast after that.

After her collaboration with Hermès in Athens and London, she will exhibit her work at Art Basel in Switzerland. Meanwhile, she has a series of collaborations lined up in the near future, from Taiwan to Australia and from New York to Italy.

Greekness” (what Greeks call Hellenism) is an integral part of her life, even though her relationship with Greece is an indirect one. “I don’t speak Greek. I never met my grandmother, but the Greek community is part of my life. I was baptized, and my father is … very Greek. He loves food, family, music; he’s very loud and (almost) always right! And my five-year-old son tells everyone he’s Greek.”

Now, Alexandra feels like she is back to her “roots” – where everything began. “The windows at Hermès symbolize for me a journey that is now complete. My grandmother’s weaving tradition, hailing from this part of Europe, traveled to Argentina, took on a new form, and is now returning to its homeland.”


The luxury brand Hermès invites artists to take part in its competition “Artist Window”, which focuses on fresh and innovative window displays for its shops around the world.

Alexandra Kehayoglou’s creations will be on display at the Hermès boutique
•4 Stadiou and 1 Voukourestiou streets in Athens throughout the spring-summer season.