Despite weak ticket sales, Greeks remain optimistic
Less than half of the 5.3 million tickets for the Athens games have been sold.
ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- The line snaked in front of the marble stadium, moving at a painstakingly slow pace.
One woman stood with her dog. Others waited for hours, fanning themselves in the blazing midday sun.
This snapshot of people lining up to buy tickets for the Athens Games was encouraging to Olympic organizers. But such scenes have been all too rare until recently.
Though ticket sales have picked up in the last week, less than half of the 5.3 million tickets for the Athens Games have been sold. Now, with the opening ceremony less than a week away, officials are appealing to Greek pride as they try to sell the rest.
One ad running on local TV shows a Greek guy sitting at home on the couch. An overseas relative calls and leaves a message saying he guesses the guy must be at the Olympics. Feeling guilty, the Greek guy is next shown sitting in the stands at an Olympic venue.
"Until now Greeks have shown that they are enthusiastic about the return of the Olympic Games in Greece," said Seraphim Kotrotsos, an Athens 2004 spokesman. "We are sure that in the days left until the Olympic Games every day they will buy more and more tickets."
Organizers have so far sold about 2.3 million tickets. A one-day Athens record of 53,997 tickets were purchased this Thursday, as compared to an average of just 4,000 per day in June and July.
"We never promised 100 percent capacity at the stadiums. In no Olympics organization has there ever been 100 percent," Kotrotsos said. "We had said we hoped for 60 percent."
More than 80 percent of the 7.6 million tickets were sold at the 2000 Sydney Games.
At the marble Panathinaiko stadium -- host of the 1896 Olympics and site of the marathon finish this time -- people standing in line Thursday said sluggish sales were due to a combination of events leading up to the games -- including fears of terrorism, Olympic construction delays and the Greek habit of doing things at the last minute.
"It's the international scene, the whole hysteria has made the games less attractive [and] the construction being completed at the last minute," said Alexandros Chloros, a management consultant. "The whole Greek mentality, we're waiting until the last minute."
Others waiting in line angrily denied weak ticket sales were due to construction delays that plagued preparations ever since the games were awarded to Athens in 1997, and defended Greek interest in the upcoming Olympics.
"We have a very good percentage of participation for a small country," said Stratos Stamatis, an engineer. "I think participation is very high. Everyone is talking about them, at work, on TV."
Most of the tickets still unsold are cheaper ones with prices ranging from $12 to $18 for preliminary rounds of competitions, organizers said.
Tour operators said Greece also failed to get a rush of Olympic-related tourism, for the same reasons that have hurt ticket sales.
Tourism accounts for about 18 percent of Greece's gross domestic product, but some parts of the country have experienced a 10 percent to 15 percent drop in bookings this season.
"Generally, it looks like this year we will have less people," said George Drakopoulos, head of the Association of Greek Tourist Enterprises.
There was "a doubt about whether everything would be ready on time and if the games would be successful," said Aliki Hamosfakidou, who works for Athens-based tour operator Dolphin Travel.
Many tour operators also feel the Olympics were not publicized enough and that all of Greece was insufficiently promoted.
"I think in the end we're going to have a good turnout. They are not going to be sold out," said Chloros, the management consultant who was buying his tickets at the marble stadium. "There is a lot of talk about Greek pride."