Travel Scene: Greece up, China down in international tourism

Two popular travel destinations, China and Greece, are reporting good news and bad news as far as tourism is concerned.

The good news first: Greek tourism took a big hit in 2012 when the government imposed extreme austerity programs — raising taxes and cutting expenses through layoffs — that resulted in riots, strikes and protests that had huge effects on tourism. This year, with relative calm in the country, visitors are returning in record numbers.

It's a far different story in China, the fourth-most-visited destination in the world. With levels of pollution and smog reportedly worse than ever — making headlines all over the world — the number of foreign tourists visiting the country has fallen like a rock.

China's National Tourism Administration also blames the global economic slowdown and a stronger Chinese currency for the decline. But whatever the reasons, from January to June, the number of foreign visitors, including business and leisure travelers, entering China fell by 5 percent, to just less than 13 million, as compared to the same period last year. Visitor totals from all parts of the world declined.

In Beijing, which boasts such major attractions as the Great Wall and the Imperial Palace, the drop is even more evident, according to Global Travel Industry News. The number of foreign tourists visiting Beijing fell by 15 percent the first half of the year, to 1.9 million.


The decline, observers say, could be long term if Beijing fails to make progress in combating pollution. Air and water throughout China — but particularly in Beijing — are badly polluted, as a Post-Bulletin tour group found out in a visit a few years ago.

Beijing tried some clean-up efforts before the 2006 Olympics, but the effort never went beyond that. Factories and automobiles without adequate pollution controls have contributed greatly to the smog that regularly concentrates over the city.

Tourism in Greece, on the other hand, has made a striking comeback. Data from the Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises, also published by Global Travel Industry News, show the arrivals of foreign tourists at the country's main airports increased by 12 percent on an annual basis.There was a drop of 6.2 percent the previous year.

The influx of visitors has allowed major hotels in the country to raise prices to help lift the economy. "Month-to-month averages went up some 10 percent," it was reported by the news service.

Carnival Lines, EPA agree on pollution

Carnival Corp. has agreed to reduce polluting emissions from its fleet of ships, saying it will install scrubbers to reduce sulfur dioxide and filters to trap soot on as many as 32 of its vessels over the next three years.

According to the Associated Press, the agreement with the Environment Protection Agency also requires Carnival ships to plug into the electrical grid while in port, rather than idle, to further reduce pollution. Emissions from ocean-going vessels largely have been unregulated and contributed to 30 major U.S. ports mainly along the West Coast and Alaska violating air pollution standards, the EPA has maintained for several years in the face of cruise line objections.

But in 2010, "the International Maritime Organization, at the EPA's request, created buffer zones along U.S. coasts requiring foreign-flagged ships to reduce pollution," according to the AP.


Carnival, the world's largest cruise company, says the new measures will cost more than $180 million and apply to ships owned and operated by the firm and its subsidiaries: Holland American Line, Princess Cruises and Cunard.

Also, according to the AP, if the technology does not meet or exceed the standard as Carnival expects, the company will have to resort to a more expensive solution and use lower sulfur fuel — which would be similar to steps that many power-producing plants in the U.S. have had to take.

Bob Retzlaff is the Post-Bulletin's travel editor.

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