Greek concerns partner for pre-Olympics push

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NEW YORK -- Although confident the return of the summer Olympic Games to Athens will prove to be a surefire arrivals booster come 2004, Greek tourism officials and their supplier partners are taking herculean measures to spur bookings a bit sooner.

"We have a great marketing advantage in the Olympics returning to their birthplace," said George Tambakis, North American director for the Greek National Tourist Organization (GNTO) in New York, estimating that 500,000 U.S. travelers are expected to visit Greece in 2004.

However, the games are more than two years away, transatlantic travel remains depressed and Greece -- a popular cruise destination -- somewhat has suffered as ships have been shifted away from the eastern Mediterranean.

So the GNTO and 13 members of the Hoboken, N.J.-based American Hellenic Tour Operators Association (AHTOA) are collaborating on cooperative advertising campaigns, a series of travel agent seminars and a specialist program.

Greek tourism officials and U.S.-based tour operators have joined forces to craft ads, seminars and a specialist program promoting the Aegean nation. Above, the island of Santorini. According to Tambakis, the seminars will be held in nine U.S. cities -- on both coasts and in Florida -- beginning this spring.

Meanwhile, ads should begin appearing in the fall, pending approval; no debut date has been set for the specialist program.

In addition, AHTOA members are forking over above-standard commissions.

For example, Ulysses Tours in New York is paying 15% on group bookings, 12% on land and individual arrangements, and 10% on international air.

Olympia Tours of Aventura, Fla., pays 11%, while Cloud Tours, also in New York, gives agents 10% to 15% on its plans, all of which include air.

Luxury yacht charter operator Valef Yachts of Ambler, Pa., upped its pay to 15%, and Apollo Tours, Glenview, Ill., pays from 12% to 15% on land-only and air-land FIT packages.

Given the move to zero pay by U.S. carriers, agents are now "better off selling inclusive packages in order to make money on the air," said Cloud Tours president Cally Pantelidis, also head of the AHTOA.

Many operators book travel on Greek national carrier Olympic Airways, which continues to pay 10% with no cap on flights to Athens. It also offers a $309 roundtrip agent ticket, along with $100 companion fares.

According to Pantelidis, clients should visit Greece "before the Olympics crowds arrive starting in 2003."

The following are some sample AHTOA-member packages. Rates are per person, double.

• Cloud Tours' eight-night Santorini Escapade comprises sightseeing in Athens, a three-night cruise to the Aegean islands and Turkey, and three nights on the island of Santorini. Prices start from $1,359, including all cruise meals and daily hotel breakfasts. For details, call (800) 223-7880 or e-mail [email protected].

• Olympia Tours' Aegean Classic, a sort of Greek sampler, is priced from $1,146. It includes two nights each in Athens, Mykonos and Santorini, and a cruise to Rhodes and Amorgos, along with Bodrum, Turkey. Daily buffet breakfast, all meals aboard ship, and sightseeing in Athens are included. For more information, call (800) 367-6718 or e-mail [email protected].

• Ulysses Tours' Mermaid package bundles three nights each in Athens and Mykonos with a four-day voyage to the Aegean islands and Turkey. Priced from $1,016, the plan includes transfers and sightseeing in Athens. Departures run through Nov. 6. For details, call (800) 431-1424 or e-mail [email protected].

• Valef Yachts' flagship luxury yacht Christina O. -- which accommodates 36 passengers in 17 suites and one master suite -- rents for $85,000 per day, including fuel, food, drinks and a crew of 36. To book, call (800) 223-3845 or e-mail [email protected].

The other AHTOA members are Amphitron Holidays, Washington; Crown Peters, Astoria, N.Y.; FreeGate Tourism, Garden City, N.Y.; Homeric Tours, New York; Mediterranean Destinations, Upper Darby, Pa.; Neotours, Skokie, Ill.; Tourlite International, New York; and Zeus Tours & Yacht Cruises, New York.

Call the GNTO at (212) 421-5777, or contact AHTOA at (201) 963-9004 or visit www.ahtoa.com on the Web.

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