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Cultural Tourism in Greece at a Time of Economic Crisis
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In September 2008 I watched the global financial crisis develop on television in Athens. Custodians at archaeological sites were already nervous and shared quite openly their fears about the economic impact on their personal situations. Little did we realize how severe the situation would become, especially for Greece. These events coincided with the limited public opening of the New Acropolis Museum situated to the south of the Athenian Acropolis (Pandermalis and Tschumi 2008) (Fig. 1). The formal opening of this stunning new venue took place in June 2009 and it allowed visitors to Athens to view, in a carefully planned way, the wide range of archaeological material derived from this major urban sanctuary. Visitors could encounter archaic korai, votives from the sanctuaries nestling in the crags of the Acropolis, as well as the remaining Parthenon sculptures that are linked visually with the Temple of Athena to the north. The new architecture encourages a dialogue between the architectural monuments and the carefully protected artifacts (Caskey 2011).

In 2009 the building attracted over 800,000 visitors (AFP 2010) and 1.3 million in 2010 (AFP 2011), but there were declines in 2011 and 2012 (1.2 million and 1 million respectively)(Fig. 2). This may have been in part due to political unrest and violent demonstrations that took place in central Athens. However, it could also be linked to the natural decline of visitor numbers seen after the opening of new venues. In the same period the National Archaeological Museum attendance fell from 258,139 in 2009 to 170,034 in 2011, but had a marked rise in 2012 to 311,129 (Fig. 3). The visitor numbers for museums across Greece appear to show a steady decline from 2006, though the opening of the Acropolis Museum gave a welcome lift (Fig. 4). If the visitors for the Acropolis Museum and the National Archaeological Museum are removed, it suggests that visits to museums have stabilized between 2008 and 2012, fluctuating between 1.7 million (2009) and 1.5 million (2010). This is still a major decrease from the numbers seen in 2006.

The economic crisis seems to have negatively affected visitor numbers to archaeological sites in Greece (Fig. 5). These numbers for 2010 were down by 7.1 percent from 2009, although museums reported an increase of 11.5 percent for the same period, which is likely explained by the significant number of people visiting the Acropolis

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Fig. 1. 

The Acropolis Museum in Athens, adjacent to the Theatre of Dionysos, as seen from the Athenian Acropolis in 2008. (Photo by D. W. J. Gill.)

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Fig. 2. 

Admissions to the Acropolis Museum in Athens from its opening in June 2009 through 2012.

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Fig. 3. 

Admissions to the National Archaeological Museum in Athens from 2006 through 2012.

Museum (AFP 2011). The combined number of visitors to both archaeological sites and museums looks stronger (Fig. 6), although decreases are masked by the large numbers of visitors to museums and sites in Athens. The United Kingdom Office for National Statistics indicated that there was a reduction of 5 percent in the number of British tourists travelling to Greece in 2012 (down to 1.8 million). The planned closure of archaeological museums and sites, as well as the disruption in the spring of 2013 due to industrial action, are likely to have further impact on visitor numbers and income. However, in 2011 there was an increase in the combined numbers of visitors to museums and archaeological sites (see Fig. 6). This alone contributed some €48 million to the Greek economy through ticket sales (Fig. 7). Note that this excludes additional spending associated with cultural visits, such as hotels, restaurants, and transport.

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Fig. 4. 

Visitors to all museums in Greece from 2006 through 2012. The adjusted figures remove the visitors for the Acropolis Museum and the National Archaeological Museum.

These figures can be compared with the 5.2-million paying visitors to English Heritage sites in 2011–2012 (English Heritage 2012). In addition, there are some 1.12 million members of English Heritage. Both tickets sales and membership fees generated £35.1 million...

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