Elena Kountoura: "Tourism should contribute to world betterment, unite all people"
Greece is emerging from economy crisis, and tourism plays a significant role in this process. The industry’s contribution to Greek GDP over the past four years is estimated at 37.5 billion euros. Last year, Greece was visited by 33 million tourists, including a million Russians. This year there is every reason to expect an increase in the number of tourists: by March, there is an increase of 15% at the early booking stage. Greece's tourism minister Elena Kountoura told about it Vestnik Kavkaza in an exclusive interview.
- 2018 was the Greece-Russia cross-year of tourism. How effective was the partnership?
- The results were very good: there were many festivals, concerts, as well as gastronomic events. We gave people in Russia and Greece the opportunity to get to know each other’s culture. The number of Russian tourists visiting Greece is close to a million. We are pleased that the Russians feel the warm hospitality in Greece and come to our country. It also proves that the search for historical, cultural ties between our countries leads to us. Russia is our priority in the overall promotion of Greece to dynamic foreign markets.
- Do prices at Greek resorts, which have always been higher than in Egypt and Turkey, stop Russian tourists? What contribution did the Russian tourists make to Greece's economy?
- We have made an image of a common Russian tourist. This is a highly educated person who knows what he wants and why he visits our country. Greece can provide opportunities for a luxurious, expensive vacation with new places of interest and new experiences; and Russian tourists like uncharted places. At the same time, there are budget vacation spots. We really like the image of a Russian tourist.
- What are the expectations for 2019? Will there be a recession, since the financial situation in Russia is difficult?
- We expect an increase in tourist flow. Greece offers Russian tourists the best price-quality ratio, regardless of what type of holiday they choose. According to our data by early booking for 2019, an increase in tourist traffic by 15% is expected. It does not matter what tourists it will be - coming to a family vacation, by groups or alone. We hope to meet expectations of the most demanding tourists.
- You have been given new responsibilities to develop the tourism sector of the entire Mediterranean. Can we get a little more detail on that?
- President of Malta Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, in recognition of Greece's leading role in the development of tourism in the Mediterranean region, invited me to join the Board of Governors of the Mediterranean Tourism Foundation. So I became an honorary member of the Board of Governors of this fundation from Greece. Malta hosted the Mediterranean Tourism Forum, which was attended by representatives of the tourism industry and ministries from different countries. We worked a lot and came to the conclusion that tourism should have humanitarian values, should contribute to world betterment, democracy and unite people. All Mediterranean countries should work in this direction, because we have the necessary tools for this. We also decided to strengthen the role of women and youth in the tourism sector. It was a serious impetus for the emergence of a general idea of tourism in the Mediterranean.
- What is the strategy for the development of the tourism sector, which has given Greece such impressive results?
- In recent years, our strategy has been based on five main areas. The first is to increase the tourist season all year round. The second is the discovery of new destinations, which were not so popular among tourists before. The third is the support of modern youth tourism, designed for energetic people. The fourth is thematic tourism, involving the development of thematic projects. The fifth is to attract major investors in tourism. We take part in all exhibitions, work with the largest representatives of the tourist industry and tour operators to create new programs, including flight ones. Together we develop new directions and get new opportunities.
In the Russian direction, we have achieved that flights to Greece are carried out not only from Moscow and St. Petersburg, but also from other regions. We have developed a new flight program. Planes arrive in Athens, Thessaloniki, Crete, Corfu, Rhodes, Paros, Zakynthos and other islands. We are currently working to increase the number of arrivals to northern Greece, to Thassos and other areas of the country. To this end, we are developing regional tourism departments, listening to ideas at the local level. We try to resolve all issues together.
Thus, Greece reached the world tourist level, entering in the TOP-5 of the best tourist destinations in the world. We followed all the tourism trends and promoted the idea of authentic impressions that can be found in Greece. Greece is the only European Union country with more than 100 islands, each of them has its own beauty, which gives tourists a variety of impressions.
This year, 55 thousand luxury suites in 4 and 5-star hotels were added. In 2018, we achieved high results, having about 33 million tourists. This is the highest figure that could be expected, and we hope that it will only grow in subsequent years. Accordingly, profits will grow. Over the past four years, tourism sector revenues have increased by 35%. This is about 20% of GDP, or about 37.5 billion euros. Thus, tourism was a good support for the economy of Greece, whose population is about 11 million people. This gives optimism for the further development of the industry.
- Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras recently said that the country has overcome the effects of the crisis, which has reduced the economy by a quarter, and now there has been recover. It has even become possible to place 10-year government bonds on the Athens Stock Exchange. Is this the result of work in the tourism industry?
- Tourism is one of the most important pillars of Greece’s economy. Thanks to tourism, which is developing dynamically, other sectors are also developing - transport, trade, construction, there is a flow of investments into the country. We are optimistic about the future.
- Are there any Russian investments in Greek tourism?
- Of course, Russian investments are noticeable. This applies to hotels, travel agencies and other aspects of the tourism sector. Local Greek investments, investments from the U.S., China and a number of EU countries are also visible. Today Greece provides great opportunities for investors.