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Published on 15 March 2012
News Originally published November 29, 2011
It was a necessary step even during the crisis
Greece’s culture ministry on Monday said it was improving services and amenities at nearly 200 archaeological sites and museums to encourage repeat visitors and keep its crisis-hit economy afloat. "It was a necessary step even during the crisis. In fact, I’d say it is particularly necessary during a crisis," Culture Minister Pavlos Geroulanos told a news conference.
Ministry officials said the three-year overhaul launched 12 months ago had turned around facilities at 177 sites and museums, 118 of which had formerly lacked basic provisions for visitors, including functional toilets.
Even before 2010, when Greece was forced to seek bailout loans from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, services at many archaeological sites were spartan."We found that Greece had one of the lowest rates in return visitors," Geroulanos said."Some sites lacked basic services such as information brochures, others had deplorable public health areas, or had shops without items to sell or vendors," the minister said.
A man visits the Acropolis museum in Athens, Greece. Photograph by: Aris Messinis , AFP/Getty Images
Thanks to the initiative, which received an unspecified sum from state gaming monopoly OPAP, officials were able to reopen 33 museum shops, introduce vending machines in 28 locations and add 10 toilets nationwide, the ministry said. And part of the effort went into printing 340 brochures in Braille for blind people.
Authorities now hope to introduce electronic tickets and portable audio guides to the top 20 sites by 2013, including the Athens Acropolis, the oracle of Delphi and Olympia, birthplace of the Olympic Games. The main sites are also to be given a single brand identity, titled "Monuments and Museums of Greece", and a logo.
The ministry on Monday launched an international competition for design offers in return for prizes of between 1,000 and 12,000 euros ($1,300-16,000). The tourism industry makes up between 15 and 18 percent of the country’s battered economy. Tourism income was up 10.6 percent in the nine-month period to September, with Germans and Britons making up the biggest client segments, the Bank of Greece said last week.
The country cleared 7.6 billion euros ($10.2 billion) during the period compared to 6.9 billion euros a year ago, the central bank said. The last major effort to improve visitor services was nearly a decade ago, ahead of the 2004 Athens Olympics. For some sites it was the first time that display signs had been made available in English.
The latest drive is partly financed by European Union money which Greece has been unable to fully exploit until now due to a lack of reciprocal domestic funds.
Given the country’s serious financial trouble, the EU recently agreed to increase European participation and to lower the requirement for Greek funds.