Greece – rightfully so – boasts that the Acropolis Museum, open five years now and built primarily as a way to get back the stolen Parthenon Marbles housed by the British Museum, is one of the world’s best.
Apart from a cement façade, which should have been marble, it is an attraction that should not be missed – but is. That’s because Greece, as it does in so many other areas, believes that word-of-mouth is enough to lure people.
Greece’s tourism budget is pitifully small, and lesser once you count how much of it goes to pay the salaries of people hired by politicians and friends to do nothing except dream of early retirement, although they could also serve as models for statues because they’re so still.
A couple of years ago, when the economic crisis really began to kick in, the rocket scientists in economy here decided the best way to get people from the United States to come – tourism is the biggest revenue raiser for Greece, as high as 18 percent of the 249.1 billion euro ($331.7 billion) – was to put advertisements on napkins in Greek restaurants.
Greece should pour everything it can into tourism, including imagination, and Tourism Minister Olga Kefalogianni at least has been one of the people in that position who’s alive and has some ideas.
The Acropolis Museum is case in point. How many ads do you see in the United States? Has the curator or museum officials been there to talk in New York or Boston? Not including all those hired because they’re from the same village as Prime Minister Antonis Samaras
Has the museum offered any pieces for loan to the Met in New York or Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts which have unmatched Greek wings? Does Greece have any promotional plans other than to pray people come?
In 2013, the Sunday Times in London rated the Acropolis Museum the third best in the world behind – not the Louvre, whose attractions include yet another stolen piece of Greek history, the statue of Nike – but the Smithsonian in Washington and the British Museum, which houses the stolen marbles in a dreary setting instead of returning them to Greece and the Acropolis Museum where viewers could see them against the backdrop of the Parthenon, from where Lord Elgin pilfered them.
And where does the World’s Third Best museum stand in the number of visitors? Try 57th, according to the Art Newspaper, which for some inexplicable reason didn’t include number one, the Palace Museum in Beijing which gets 12 million visitors, not so hard when you’ve got 1.3 billion people in the country.
But still the Acropolis Museum, in the shadow of the greatest art treasure the world has ever known and which, until this summer, used to close in the afternoon at the height of tourist season so workers could get their zzzzz’s, is behind the likes of not just New York’s Met or the Louvre or British Museum, but the National Folk Museum of Korea.
With 1,091,143 visitors in the most recent annual count, the Acropolis Museum is still almost 5.7 million vistors shy of the British Museum. What works against the Acropolis Museum is its single focus instead of offering an array of artistic works but if promoted better it would do better.
It’s not just the museum, but most all Greek cultural attractions that don’t get enough visitors because the government has done too little to make it happen.
Until a couple of years ago, before a crackdown, junkies practically surrounded the National Archaeological Museum and the adjacent grounds were unkempt and tourists had to put up with addicts urinating on the outside walls.
Greece isn’t taking enough advantage of its ancient and revered history and overlooked cultural tourism, the Center of Economic Planning and Research (KEPE) said.
KEPE said that cultural tourism in Greece and research into related issues are in urgent need of comprehensive development.
“The potential is not simply there but there is a surplus and it’s often latent. What is required is a comprehensive and systematic drive at all levels for the right projection and further tapping in the tourism sector,” it said in a report.
“At a much more general economic level, a related OECD study showed that in several large economies the value produced by their cultural industries is in the order of 3-6 percent of GDP. Indeed, given that the study in question refers to countries such as the US, the UK and France, it becomes obvious that cultural tourism is a huge industry where huge interests are at stake and huge sums are involved… more than 50 percent of tourism activity in Europe is driven by cultural heritage and cultural tourism is the component expected to have the highest growth rate,” the paper continued.
That came just after Prime Minister Antonis Samaras visited an Alexander the Great-era tomb at Amphipolis in Macedonia.
News there could be a major yield there spiked visits overnight and made it a hot attraction in the middle of a record-breaking tourism year, which is happening despite tourism officials, not because of them.
KEPE said the number of admission tickets issued for Greece’s largest museums and archaeological sites lagged far behind those issued for their counterparts abroad, including the Colosseum in Rome which gets four times more visitors than the Acropolis.
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