Greece is the word for Australians

If the owner of a taverna on a cliff top on Greece's Santorini Island comes running towards an Australian it is likely to be with wide-open arms.

Australians are the biggest spenders of any holidaymakers in cash-strapped Greece.

On average, they fork out €1420 ($1820) each per trip and stay about 12 days longer than most other nationalities. The next biggest spenders are Canadians (€1207), Americans (€1098) and Russians (€1005), according to figures from the Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises.

Free-spending Australians are being urged to continue to travel to Greece despite occasional protests over tough austerity measures imposed on the population because of the country's ailing economy.

Tourism accounts for 16 per cent of the country's gross domestic product, but has been affected by the economic climate and social unrest. According to Bank of Greece, tourists spent €9.77 billion in the country last financial year, compared with €10.18 billion in the previous year. Visitor numbers to Greece fell 5.5 per cent overall, with arrivals from other EU countries down 13.4 per cent.

''Tourism is seen as one of the economic pillars of the Greek economy and can help lift it out of the crisis,'' says Christina Kalogera, the director of the Greek National Tourism Organisation in Australia. ''It's a good time to travel there because the exchange rate is favourable and prices for accommodation, flights and tours are very competitive,'' she says.

The Australian government's travel warning for Greece, where one in five people are employed in tourism, is at the lowest level but it cautions that protests against economic and political developments are occurring without warning in the cities.

''There is nothing to fear for tourists,'' Ms Kalogera says. ''There is very good infrastructure in Athens. There is a good subway and it is easy to move around. It is more than safe.''

It seems Australians don't need all that much urging to pack their bags for the sun-drenched islands, the spanakopita and the antiquities. More than 100,000 travel to Greece yearly, many of them visiting friends and relatives.

Ms Kalogera says that Greece remains a key holiday destination, with about 16.5 million visitors from around the world yearly. ''Economic crises come and go,'' she says. ''Greece still is, and always will be, one of the most popular destinations in the world.''

However, the United Nations World Tourism Organisation has reported that Greece has slipped from the top five European holiday destinations in the past five years to now be ranked 10th.

One of the major suppliers of holidays to Greece from Australia is Cox & Kings. The company's chief executive, Steve Reynolds, says there was a marked decline in interest in Greece during the past European summer, brought about by negative media about civil unrest.

''I visited twice and in my experience it was absolutely fine to go. The unrest was grossly overstated,'' he says. ''This year we are experiencing good levels of inquiries and bookings. I think there is pent-up demand.''

Mr Reynolds says Santorini and Mykonos are among the most popular places to see, but that interest in all of Greece is up.

The story Greece is the word for Australians first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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