Greece Gains Ground

For the last five years, survey after survey has ranked Italy as the number-one international travel destination. Such a stronghold can only last so long, leaving many wondering what will be the next hot destination. Mykonos  is a popular honeymoon destination; tourism to Greece in general has been on the upswing

Quickly gaining ground is Italy's Mediterranean neighbor, Greece. The country over the last few years has remained a strong source of revenue for tour operators, so much so that 2007 itineraries have brought a handful of new tours to the region.

While Greece is far from an emerging destination, it is a steady performer. "We've been there over 20 years and it's always done very well for us," says Marc Kazlauskas, president of Insight Vacations. "It came back with a fury after 2001 and from 2002 through 2006, I would say Greece is up over 200 percent."

Which may explain why Insight, which specializes in tours throughout Europe, the Eastern Mediterranean, Canada and the United States, now offers six cruising tours in Greece. Stops include the islands of Mykonos, Santorini, Rhodes, Patmos and Crete. This year, the company added a full land tour. The draw, according to Kazlauskas, is the weather, the people, the food and the different vibes the islands provide. Insider Info

"In Athens there are a couple of must-sees, but after that, you move on," he advises. "All over Greece, you have great weather, history and architecture."

History is precisely what drew Intrav, an educational tour company, to include Greece on two new cruises this year. "Greece has so much to give," says Bill Diebenow, vice president of sales for the company. "We just try to build the itinerary where there's opportunity for content. It's been a pretty easy sell at a full rate. The ship is small, so the numbers aren't huge, but currently we have 115 out of 118 possible beds booked on one tour and the other is about 60 percent full."

In fact, capacity tends to be a problem for visitors to Greece, as tour programs and direct flights can fill up quickly. Continental Airlines will attempt to ease the flight capacity problem when it launches daily nonstop service between New Jersey's NewarkInternationalAirport and Athens, Greece on June 7.

Peak travel periods to Greece are May through September, which makes the region a fitting destination for honeymooners. Executive Vice President of Tourlite International and Zeus Tours Valerie Athans-Papaioannou, who's name alone qualifies her as an expert on Greece, says honeymoon business to Greece—the islands in particular—is always popular and is on the rise. "Most honeymoon clients are interested in a stay in Athens and then typically a three or four night stay in Mykonos and Santorini," she says, adding that enhanced accommodations have helped Greece improve as a honeymoon destination. "Some hotels have rooms with their own private pools," she notes. "The islands have magnificent properties that can cater to the most discriminating traveler."

One such hotel may soon be the Mystique, Starwood Hotels & Resorts' sixth property in Greece. Located on the cliffs of Oia, Santorini, the Mystique is expected to open its doors this May. The property houses 18 suites and villas handcrafted from wood, local stone and glass, as well as several restaurants, including SecretWineCave, a wine cellar said to have a rare and indigenous wine selection.

Perhaps the most attractive part of selling Greece is the region's versatility. Both cruises and land tours are available with some tour companies operating hybrid land-sea excursions.

Too, Greece is serendipitously located next to that other Mediterranean hot spot. "Include Italy on the Greece tour," advises Insight's Kazlauskas. "Not many agencies are pushing that, and the two countries are very easy to get to by flight."