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Greece is finally seeing the upside of its economic struggles: foreign tourists realize that it is now a great deal as a destination.
Nearly 2 million foreign visitors flew to Greece’s main airport during the summer season, data showed on Wednesday, a boost for the Mediterranean country which relies on tourism to help pull itself out of an economic crisis.
The 6.5 percent rise in May through August compared to last year is in line with forecasts by tourism officials who expect a record 17 million visitors this year, 1 million more than in 2012.
Greece has been a popular destination mainly for Germans and Britons for decades but is now attracting increasing numbers of tourists from outside the European Union.
Nearly 70 percent more tourists from the United Arab Emirates visited the country this summer compared to last year, data from the Athens International Airport showed.
Twenty-two percent were from countries outside the European Union, with 44 percent more Swiss and 27 percent more Turkish tourists visiting the country.
Tourism accounts for about 17 percent of output and one in five jobs in a country where unemployment has tripled to over 27 percent since the debt crisis began in 2009. Industry officials see a 10 percent revenue rise in 2013, to 11 billion euros.
Domestic tourism, which accounts for up to 25 percent of total tourism revenues, has been hit hard, falling 12.4 percent compared to last year as many Greeks who have had their incomes squeezed during the crisis can no longer afford to get away.
(Editing by Stephen Nisbet)