Cruise Ship Attack Frightens Away American Tourists
ATHENS, Greece (AP) _ A terrorist attack aboard a cruise ship last month has frightened thousands of Americans away from this country that depends so highly on foreign vacationers, tourism officials report.
Aegean Sea island-hopping cruises have begun to regain popularity but hotel and tourism officials say the July 11 gun and grenade assault aboard the City of Poros cruise ship led to a wave of hotel cancellations.
The terrorist action left nine dead and more than 90 injured. The attack occurred as the City of Poros returned from a one-day island-hopping tour with 471 passengers aboard.
Killed in the attack were three French citizens, two Hungarians, a Dane, a Swede and two unidentified men. No Americans were among the casualties.
Greek security officials have still not established who was responsible for the assault and no arrests have been made in connection with the case. The Abu Nidal organization, a Palestinian group known for other terrorist attacks, is suspected of involvement.
Most of the hotel cancellations have been by American business people who planned to attend conferences in the Greek capital and American vacationers on tour groups, hotel officials said. They said Europeans did not appear to have been frightened away by the attack.
″Three major business conferences that were to be attended by some 900 Americans were canceled almost immediately after the ship massacre,″ Eva Veloudakis, public relations manager at the Intercontinental Hotel in Athens told The Associated Press.
About 400,000 American vacationers were expected to visit Greece in 1988, a 65 percent increase over last year’s figure of 260,000, leading tourism officials said.
According to Joanne Despotopoulou of the government’s National Tourist Organization, about 4,000 Americans canceled their visits in the immediate aftermath of the attack.
Tour operators estimated the figure was much higher.
″Since the attack we’ve had a great drop in American visitors,″ said a tour operator who asked not to be named.″Our bookings are down by approximately 10 percent compared to last year.″
″Cruises are gradually picking up again but there was a noticeable slump in their popularity following the attack,″ said Ms. Despotopoulou. ″A lot of tourists, and particularly the Japanese, stopped going on them and took up classical tours by bus instead.″
In 1987, 8 million tourists visited Greece, led by Britons and West Germans, totaling 1.9 million and 1.2 million respectively.
Tourism is Greece’s biggest foreign exchange earner. According to the Bank of Greece, tourists brought in approximately $2.2 billion in foreign exchange in 1988, more than 5 percent of the country’s gross national product.
American visitors to Greece dropped dramatically in 1985, when the United States issued a travel advisory on the potential danger of flying to Athens after the hijacking of a TWA jetliner.
The plane was seized during a flight from Athens to Rome.
A U.S navy diver was murdered by the hijackers and 39 other poeple were held captive for 17 days until their eventual release in Beirut, Lebanon.
Greece lost $100 million in tourism revenues because of terrorism in 1985, according to official figures of the European Economic Community.
The cruise ship industry - always popular among high income earners - was the hardest hit, with Americans canceling 35 percent of their bookings.
When the 1985 advisory was lifted after six weeks, the Greek government set about trying to lure tourists, especially Americans, with an expensive publicity campaign.
Top tourism officials say the country plans a similar publicity campaign in an effort to blunt negative reaction from last month’s attack.