25 June 2011

Is this the explanation?

Why Greece is in such a mess...

We were having one of our regular conversations about what can/should be done to solve the financial crisis into which Greece has plunged. This time we were driving towards the airport from the north of the island and every single traffic light changed to red just as we approached it. This does sometimes happen and we made our usual "why does nothing ever work properly" comment whilst watching two, three, four cars drive straight through the red light. In the context of the on-going discussion it occurred to me that we were experiencing a perfect analogy with the financial situation. Namely, the system doesn't work properly, frustration sets in and the man in the street feels entitled to break the law. Because, of course, no-one can deny that the Greeks are a nation of tax-dodgers, but equally no-one can deny that the system is hugely unfair and those of us who live here know how extremely hard it is to run a small business totally legally and actually make any sort of profit at all.

Doesn't solve the present day problem, but I wish someone would explain all this to the increasingly smug sounding northern Europeans who criticize so freely.

At last, something almost positive

Since all we are seeing at the moment on TV and in newspapers is totally negative, it was interesting to read this on a specialist travel website.

With a fresh round of protests, Paz Casal, Travel and Tourism Industry Analyst at Euromonitor International investigates the impact of further social unrest on Greece’s travel and tourism industry.

Economic strife continues
According to the European Commission, the Greek economy is expected to shrink 3.5% in 2011, after a 4.5% contraction in 2010. However, despite two years of decline in tourism revenues as well as recession, international tourism demand is expected to increase in 2011 thanks to economic recovery in its key source markets and conflict in competitor destinations such as Egypt and Tunisia.

Taking into account that tourism accounts for almost 18% of GDP, the government has introduced initiatives to draw visitors and help with financial recovery, such as the cut in value-added tax for hotel stays from 11% to 6.5%, a reduction in ferry ticket prices and the waiving of landing and taking-off fees at airports outside Athens.

In an effort to boost cruise shipping and tourism, the government passed a law in 2010 which allowed non EU-flagged ships to travel round the Greek islands.

Internet marketing boosts numbers
New marketing campaigns have resulted in increased arrivals from core countries such as the UK and Germany and newer markets like Russia, Israel, the Balkans and Ukraine. Some of these campaigns include the "You in Greece" website, particularly in Russia, as well the marketing of Greece on websites such as Facebook, Expedia and Twitter.

Russian visitors on the increase
The lifting of visa restrictions for non-EU citizens from Turkey, China and India has also benefited the increase in tourists over 2011. The government is also working on simpler visa procedures for tourists from the Ukraine and Russia. Russian visitors are expected to exceed 500,000 in 2011, an increase of 50% over 2010.

Tourist arrivals at Greek airports accounted for a total of 1,147 thousand in the first four months of 2011, an increase of 5.6% over 2010, with tourism officials forecasting a record number of arrivals this year.

International arrivals to reach pre-crisis levels in 2011
According to the UNWTO, in terms of receipts, Greece has seen an increase of around 5% in the first 4 months of the year. Based on early bookings, the hotel federation expects that arrivals will rise about 10% to 15.9 million and revenue by as much as 7% this year. Thomas Cook also reported that summer bookings for Greece were 13% higher than last year. Furthermore, according to Expedia, for the first time ever, reservations have been made for as late as November.

Limited impact over the long term
Foreign governments have been very moderate in their travel advice regarding Greece, with no travel restrictions in place. According to the UNWTO’s General Secretary, Taleb Rifai “recent protests in Greece, notably in the capital Athens, are not expected to impact tourism flows to the country in the long term”.

However, as long as social tensions remain high there is always a risk that Greece’s reputation as a stable destination may be undermined. Fortunately, to date tourists have not been involved in the country’s internal conflicts and it is still perceived as a save country to visit.

I do find this quite encouraging, particularly since this week I had an enquiry for a villa for a holiday in August from some Bulgarian travellers who asked me first of all how they could get to Corfu and secondly 'Is it safe?".

Whilst no one can deny that Greece is in dire straits, for whatever reason and whoever's fault it is, it is nice to see that there is a positive side and that the Government, previously worse than useless in the promotion of tourism in Greece, does seem to be taking at least some beneficial actions.

20 June 2011

Just what we need

'Friends newly back from holiday in Corfu said two things illustrate the grim plight of Greece more than any other: nobody accepts credit cards and the auto-teller machines don't dispense cash. This tells you the ancient Greek custom of not declaring income is still thriving. No credit-card receipt means no paper trail, so no tax for you Mr Receiver - capiche? The lack of ready hard currency simply implies the banking system is kaput.'

This is a quote from an online newspaper - strange that I ALWAYS use a variety of cash machines to take money from the bank to run our business, and similarly I invariably pay by credit card for most of my shopping. I will say that the ATM at Agios Georgios South is probably the most unreliable on the planet (thank you very much Agricultural Bank) but it is simply that, it breaks down on a regular basis, and is certainly not part of a larger conspiracy! Nothing like jumping on the bandwagon to knock something when you dont actually know what you are talking about, is there? We all know Greece is in a dire financial situation, but there is a lot more to it than some businesses not accepting credit cards, or a cash machine not working.

Not just radio stations

On the subject of Susan's experience with our cell phones and car radios thinking that they have changed countries, a few years ago, before satellite TV, we used to have terrestrial TV in our house on the west coast at Halikouna. During the winter we could receive a variety of Greek channels, where programmes usually had English subtitles, but once the hot weather arrived those channels promptly disappeared and we could only tune in to Italian channels - very useful since all our clients were English!

17 June 2011

What Country am I in?

One of the things we get used to in Corfu is the fact that as you drive around the island you "change countries" without actually leaving the island. Noticeable both in mobile phone signal and radio stations, we dip in and out of Italy in the north west of the island and even more regularly in and out of Albania as we drive eastwards up and down the coast.

I have learned to switch off the roaming facility on my mobile in order to save the extra - not inconsiderable - expense of making and receiving phone calls via a foreign country without having left Corfu. This means that there are times when I have no signal or a very weak one, but I know that in a few minutes the situation will improve again.

Recently, though, I have discovered something really strange. I have two favourite radio stations for early morning listening as I drive to work. Twice in the last week one of these stations has become Italian! I have not been in the north west, not deviated from my normal route, nor altered the automatic selection on the radio, but the programmes have most definitely been in Italian, with Italian music and presenters. Later in the day, on my way home at lunchtime, Greece is back where it belongs.

How weird is that?

15 June 2011

Olympic Flame in Corfu

I had to nip into Corfu Town quickly this morning and found many roads blocked, it seemed that I couldn’t get anywhere near the Liston by car. I later found out that this is because of the impending arrival of the Olympic Flame for the Special Olympics 2011. It’s due to arrive at the Palace of St Michael and St George this evening at 7.30 pm - everyone is invited to join in the run.

13 June 2011

A Tale of Two Countries

The average "Greek in the streets" is having a pretty hard time of it at the moment. Prices of essentials (petrol, electricity, food) are increasing monthly if not weekly, and incomes are diminishing as the Government tries to gather enough ready cash to pay back the National debt by reducing still further the salaries and pensions of government employees. This, in turn, has a knock-on effect on the private sector as fewer people are spending money on clothes/holidays/cars/household repairs, etc. Businesses are closing down on a daily basis and the number of unemployed has ballooned. A pensioner was interviewed on the evening news last week - an ordinary, pleasant looking gentleman in his late sixties. His problem is simple - a pension of 680 Euros per month and his rent alone is 320 Euros. Luckily, he said, my son helps me out otherwise I would not be able to manage.

Contrast this with an example from Britain. A couple of almost retirement age who have recently returned to the UK from many years living overseas. One of them is claiming unemployment benefits, the other has registered as medically unfit and is claiming disability benefit. They have a council house. They also have a son who is something huge in banking and could actually afford to buy them a house and pay them a "salary", but does he? No sir.

From the sublime to the ridiculous - except that both are ridiculous.

11 June 2011

Duo Armande at Holy Trinity

Sadly, due to previous commitments, we were able to attend only one of the musical treats last week at Holy Trinity Anglican Church. Duo Armande, two talented young ladies playing clarinet (Claire Hawkes) and viola and violin (Shulah Oliver) entertained a full church hall to "Music from Around the World".

(I've just re-read the above and realized that it sounds as if we lead a full and active social life, so I should probably point out that one of the commitments was to the watering of our vegetable garden and the other was babysitting for our daughter and son-in-law, so not very glamorous!)

The church event was lovely, however, with wine and ample snacks provided by the stalwarts who always turn up trumps at such occasions. I wish more people would support this part of the church's activities - apart from the religious, Holy Trinity really does provide a vital service to the community.

2 June 2011

Holy Trinity Church (2)

There is lots going on in the next few days at Holy Trinity and support is needed if the church is to keep open. If anyone is around in Corfu town please try to attend as many of the following events as possible.

Summer Festival at Holy Trinity Anglican Church Corfu
Thurs 2nd June to Sat 4th June

Thursday June 2nd - Duo Armande - 8.00 pm
The Duo's repertiore includes the unusual combination of both clarinet and violin and clarinet and viola. Their discoveries into this repertoire have led them to a variety of works ranging from Bruch's well-known and beautiful Clarinet and Viola Concerto to the delightful but lesser known music of Busch, Jacob, Hindemith and Rebecca Clarke. The repertoire also includes arrangements of works such as Mozart's Sonata and Beethoven's 3 Duos originally for Clarinet and Bassoon. Claire and Shulah also have an eclectic selection of popular classics and folksongs. The Duo are actively involved in making music accessible to the community. Their programme for the evening will feature music from around the world, popular classics and folk music.

Friday June 3rd - Art Exhibition and Bazaar - 11:30 am to 3.00 pm
Exhibition of paintings from five Corfiot artists; Demonstrations of silk painting and patchwork quilting; Sale of organic foods, plants, cakes, preserves and local crafts.

Friday June 3rd - Jazz Evening - 8.00 pm
Immerse yourselves in the Jazz music and vocals of Jim Potts with Raoul Scacchi on Bass. Jim Potts is well known on the island and is esteemed author of "The Ionian Islands and Epirus, A Cultural History". Jim and Raoul will perform a selection of classical and contemporary Jazz and Blues music including many of Jim's compositions that you can preview here. Jim and Raoul have played in the past with other musicians in Corfu including Rob Sherratt and Christopher Holmes, seen here.

Saturday June 4th - Art Exhibition and Bazaar - 11:30 am to 3.00pm
Details as above.

Saturday June 4th - Ionian Academy Evening - 8.00pm
Saturday evening sees the return of friends from the Department of Music academy at the Ionian University, including teachers and star pupils performing Greek and classical music from the Ionian repertoire in Corfu. Our event at Holy Trinity Church falls within the "Ionian Concerts of 2011" for the Ionian University. The first part of the evening features cello and violin pieces, and the second part of the evening features piano and flute pieces.

Admission and Tickets
Tickets in advance only, 15 Euros per evening. Proceeds to fund the English Church. Included in the price is a plate of delicious buffet food, and a glass of wine.

Please email Rob Sherratt for tickets or phone 26610 90360.

Holy Trinity Church (1)

The following is extracted from the monthly church newsletter.

"HOLY TRINITY CHURCH CORFU NEEDS YOU! The question is, do YOU need Holy Trinity Church?

The chances are that sometime during your life on Corfu you will need Holy Trinity but, the time is fast approaching when it is very likely that Holy Trinity Church will not be here for you. There will be no more Baptisms, Weddings or Funerals!

Think about this …:

. 10,000 (approx) English speaking residents living on Corfu

. 55 members on the Electoral Role

. 48 (average) regular Sunday worshippers

. 15 people attended the AGM in April (8 of whom were members of the Church Council)

The budgeted expenditure for 2011 is 60,000 Euros

So, where is our commitment?

Contrary to popular belief, Holy Trinity Church Corfu is not funded by The Church of England or by any other Ecclesiastical body, WE have to fund it ourselves. From the regular Sunday collections we pay the expenses of having a chaplain here (salary, UK pension fund, accommodation and transport) as well as all expenses pertaining to the running costs and maintenance of the church and building.

Our Treasurer has always kept a tight control to minimize expenditure but year by year, month by month, week by week the cost of keeping Holy Trinity Church open to all has become more and more difficult to the point where time is running out and it is only if we can increase our church’s income that we can guarantee Holy Trinity WILL be here for you when you need it."