NEW YORK -- With the Summer Olympics in Athens swiftly approaching,
U.S. interest in -- and attendance at -- the Games this August is
as hard to read as a photo finish in the 100-meter dash.
Depending on which tour operator, official ticket distributor or
tourism functionary is asked, Americans either are avoiding Greece
in droves or are helping to make the Athens Olympics -- set for
Aug. 13 to 29 -- one of the most popular ever.
Operators such as Konstantinos Georgiadis, general manager of
Amphitrion Holidays in Washington, had expected the return of the
Games to Greece more than a century after their revival in Athens
in 1896 to result in a bookings bonanza.
The Greek National Tourism Organization (GNTO) fueled such
expectations with predictions two years ago that 500,000 U.S.
travelers might visit in 2004, up from 146,754 in 2002.
But Georgiadis, who is also president of the 11-member American
Hellenic Tour Operators Association (AHTOA), said he's only
achieved between 25% and 30% of projected sales to date, although
that's an improvement on the 10% to 15% recorded at the beginning
of the year.
"Things are now picking up, but I would say the general public
has been less interested than we expected," he said.
On the other hand, John Klados, vice president of marketing and
sales at Homeric Tours in New York, also an AHTOA member, said his
firm's Olympics-related bookings should account for up to 33% of
all 2004 sales, an improvement on his initial goal of just 25%.
That's despite the negative media drumbeat that Americans will
avoid Athens due to security concerns, the Iraq war and a weak
"Honestly, as far as Homeric is concerned, we're doing very well
with the way we're selling [Olympics] tickets, as part of packages
that run the gamut from economical to super-deluxe," said Klados,
adding his average U.S. client is booking a two-week stay, with one
week's worth of event tickets.
Although GNTO deputy U.S. director Chrystanthos Petsillas said
the tourist board has found ticket sales are trailing those for the
2000 Games in Sydney, Australia, official ticket agents Cartan
Tours, in Manhattan Beach, Calif., and Jet Set Sports and CoSport,
in Far Hills, N.J., said U.S. purchases are on track.
Don Williams, vice president of sales and marketing at Cartan,
said 90% of 100,000 tickets allocated to the firm were sold.
"Greece is selling very well for us, and we expect these Games
will be one of the best ever in terms of success [if] not ... [in]
numbers," he said.
Games organizer Athens 2004 said that worldwide only 1.9 million
of 5.3 million tickets are sold, but it's reached 75% of target
For his part, Sead Dizdarevic, Jet Set Sports/CoSport president
and CEO, said Athens is selling better than Sydney.
In any case, operators such as Amphitrion's Georgiadis take a
"The Olympics will help Greek tourism in coming years," he said,
citing infrastructure improvements and media coverage.
To contact reporter Kenneth Kiesnoski, send e-mail to [email protected].