European travel groups prepare for Greek euro exit

FRANK JORDANS Associated Press Published:

BERLIN (AP) -- European travel companies are planning for a possible Greek exit from the eurozone, as the country's political leaders gave up trying to forge a government Tuesday and announced fresh elections for June.

British travel firm Thomas Cook Group said Tuesday that while Greece remains a "great value" for holidaymakers, the company is working closely with hotels and other suppliers to position itself for a possible euro exit.

"We believe there are positives and negatives for the travel industry in the event that Greece were to leave the Euro," it said.

The economic and political turmoil in Greece has already hit bookings for this summer, with Greek tourism officials earlier this year noting a drop in demand, particularly from Germany. Europe's strongest economy has been at the forefront of demands for Greece to make economic reforms, including painful cuts to public services.

Last year tourism contributed about 15.7 percent to Greece's GDP, amounting to revenues of €10.5 billion ($13.5 billion).

Some economists have suggested that if Greece drops the euro, its replacement currency would quickly lose value making holidays there cheaper and thus more attractive again.

The chief executive of luxury tour operator Kuoni says the company is looking into renegotiating its contracts to take advantage of a sharp devaluation in any new Greek currency.

"Whatever happens, we want to pay Greek hoteliers a fair price. But we can't allow ourselves to be left with euro contracts if goods in the country are paid for with a significantly cheaper currency," Peter Rothwell told Swiss newspaper Sonntagszeitung in an interview published Sunday.

Meanwhile, Europe's biggest tour operator, TUI Travel PLC, said it would be able to shift bookings elsewhere if necessary, pointing to the experience of last year's revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia.

"There is no indication that the areas our customers holiday in would be adversely affected by civil unrest," said TUI. "In the unlikely event that civil unrest does break out near our resorts, we have tried and tested procedures for ensuring that our customers are looked after."

On Tuesday, police in southern Greece said they had arrested two local men suspected of an apparently random xenophobic attack on an elderly Dutchman walking his dogs on a beach.

A police statement says the 78-year-old retired engineer, a local resident for 17 years, was severely injured Sunday near the medieval town of Monemvasia, a tourist attraction.

According to the pensioner's deposition, two men in a car drove up and asked if he was German. When he replied that he was Dutch, the men attacked him anyway with stones and kicks, breaking his jaw and shouting: "This is Greece."