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January 2008

Greece: a place where every visitor can live a true experience

By Demetrios Rhompotis

Aris Spiliotopoulos, who was appointed Greece’s Minister of Tourism this past September, at the end the year’s high season but just on time to start working for 2008, has set a fundamental triptych of action that will serve as the guideline principle for the rest of his policies: enhance quality at all levels and aspects, establish Greece within the top world ranking of preferred all year-round tourist destinations and attract more investment and new business ventures. With that in mind, nine fields of tourism, Nautical, Culture, Country Side, Touring, Health and Wellness, MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, Events,) Luxury, City Breaks and Seaside, are to be more eagerly promoted, while on the investment front new public infrastructure, PPPs projects (Public Private Partnership) and taking care of related bureaucratic problems and cross-ministerial issues are already creating new facts on the ground.

Targeting American visitors, especially high-end, is also a priority and to that extent, investments in conference centers, golf courses, nautical and luxury tourism have stepped up.

Mr. Spiliotopoulos was elected Member of the Greek Parliament in April 2000 and re-elected twice since, most recently in September 2007. He graduated from the Department of Political Science and Public Administration of the University of Athens and he completed his postgraduate studies in the Department of Communications Policy, City University, London with a Masters degree in Communications Policy and Mass Media. He is currently a Doctoral candidate in the Department of Communication and Mass Media of the University of Athens. In addition to Greek he is fluent in English and Italian.

“The True Experience,” is Greece’s new campaign motto for 2008, outlining “a land of unparalleled contrasts, full of interesting diversities, offering an infinite variety of experiences,” under the leadership of a young and dynamic new minister who hopes his major legacy to be the fulfillment of a long-sought dream of his predecessors as well: “establish ourselves among the top tourist destinations, and make Greece a world power in the realm of tourism.”

Has 2007 marked another record for the number of people visiting Greece? If yes, what will your targets be for 2008?

After the successful Olympic Games of Athens in 2004, Greece experienced an increase of about 10% in terms of arrivals, each following year. All the records evidence that 17 million people will be visiting our country, until the end of 2007. Moreover, tourism is one of the most powerful engines of Greek economy, accounting for more than 18,5 percent of GDP and about 19% of employment. It boosts output in many sectors - construction, agriculture, commerce. We are very well aware of the global competition and we take it into consideration, when we implement our policy. Actually, we consider it a real challenge and it invigorates our efforts for innovation, hard work and new investments. I strongly believe that especially in tourism sector, Greece has very competitive advantages. It is a safe, modern and hospitable country. But we cannot afford complacency. Our new policy consists of three clear goals. In order to yield more fruits in the tourist industry we aim at a quality revolution in services and infrastructure, a promotion through the channels of digital technology and an environmental investment policy. Efficient infrastructure and green investments will have a positive impact both in tourism and environment.

According to your ministry’s data, how did American visitors fare? Was there an increase in quantity and quality, meaning tourists that look for more than crystal-clear seas, spectacular beaches and ancient sites?

As I mentioned before, during the past three years, total arrivals to Greece have increased on average by 7% to 10% annually. This year, in terms of arrivals, is the most successful year on record for our tourism industry. Our aim is to retain steady growth, which, over the next few years, will bring Greece to the top of the global tourism rankings. Regarding the US market, there has also been a great increase in both the quantity and the quality. We certainly expect even more people from US to visit Greece- especially up-market visitors - and we are working hard towards this objective. It is for this reason that we have stepped up investments in conference centers, golf courses, tourist accommodation (guaranteed by the Comprehensive tourism development zone mapping), nautical and luxury tourism.

What will your campaign for the US in 2008 focus on? Are you presenting something new?

Our efforts are focused on three main goals: Firstly, to enhance quality in all levels and aspects of our tourism industry. Secondly, to establish Greece within the top world ranking of preferred all year-round tourist destinations and last, but not least, to attract and encourage more investment and new business ventures.

At present we are working on three short term goals:

  • Re-organising the way we present and promote Greece abroad, in the framework of a unified strategy that will include both Marketing and Branding.
  • Attracting more Low Cost Air Carriers.
  • Implementing our new campaign. Our new slogan is The True Experience. Greece is a land of unparalleled unknown contrasts, full of interesting diversities, offering an infinite variety of experiences.
  • The formation of a Digital Technology strategy. By using new technologies and implementing new types of media we can turn the tide on how we view tourism. One of the greatest challenges we are faced with is the positioning of Greece in this new form of media, not only in terms of promotion but in terms of sales as well. The creation of a well organised network that systematically attracts a larger and newer category of customers is one of our top priorities.

One yet unfulfilled goal of most of your predecessors was having Greece’s tourist season extended beyond the late spring and summer months. In what ways will you try to make it come true?

I strongly believe that Greece is fairly well positioned in order to attract visitors all year long. Greece still has four amazing, well-diversified seasons. Each of it offers different and equivalent potential.

Apart from sea and sun, nautical and cultural tourism, for which Greece is mainly known as a destination, winter sports, touring on the mountains, rural tourism, eco-tourism, golf and wellness, city breaks in Athens and Thessalonica are also very popular forms of tourism. There are a variety of destinations for congresses, conventions and incentives. And also we try to promote out traditional gastronomy, which is one of the landmarks of our culture. In the other hand, we are working on the implementation of various measures, which aim in enhancing our competitiveness during off-season.

For instance, from November through March, fees at some regional airports could be reduced by 50%.

Are you also willing to enrich Greece’s package by adding winter options, the mountainous side, lesser know islands, seasonal experiences such as Easter and in general more off-the-beaten paths?

The new broader strategic positioning of our country demands that we portray Greece as a destination of diversity and contradiction, a place where every visitor can live a true experience.

Consequently, Greece can be considered a venue for experiences, where true, unique stories take place. That is our strategy for the new image of Greece, as a destination of global appeal. Nautical tourism, Culture tourism, Country Side tourism, Touring tourism, Health and Wellness tourism, MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, Events) tourism, Luxury tourism, City Breaks, Seaside tourism.

These 9 strategic branches are the ones in which Greece will invest in the following years, in order to dull the edges of seasonality and enhance the tourism product.

To this purpose winter tourism sooner or later must become a reflection and a mirror of modern Greece. For example we have already restructured the Ski Resort of Parnassos and very soon similar initiatives will be launched for many other countryside and winter tourism infrastructure. We need to run fast in this direction. We need to look at the qualitative aspects, which even at a symbolic level can depict specific categories, small, flexible categories of high quality tourism that we are addressing. Our country does not only provide the sun and the sea, but it can also be developed in the field of country side tourism.

Are you thinking of “employing” the multi-faceted Greek-American community in your efforts, and in what ways?

Greek American people constitute one of our most powerful tools in our big effort to showcase Greece internationally as a safe, modern and top tourist destination. The Greek American community, being a great asset for modern Greece, can act as the most effective ambassador of our country back to the United States upgrading our country’s profile, and through it the image of Greece itself.
And this is the greater contribution of the Greek American people to the development of Greek Tourism besides our invitation to visit Greece as often as they can. The role of Greek American community in the promotion of the national issues is well known. And for this support we, the Greeks of Metropolitan Greece, are thankful to the Greek American Community, which deserves praise and congratulations.

What about investment opportunities in tourism?

The enrichment and diversification of our tourist product is a priority to our strategy. Therefore new convention centers, spas, luxury hotels, golf courses, modern marinas etc will enhance the quality of Greece as a destination. New public infrastructure, modern five star hotels, thorough renovation of museums, represent a steering power for Greece, which is competitive to all the advanced European destinations. We step up PPPs projects (Public Private Partnership). We encourage private investments and we solve all related bureaucratic problems and cross-ministerial issues.

We expect a great expansion of hotel capacity – which will facilitate our effort in order to attract a bigger share of the upper market tourism and at the same time we strongly encourage the preservation of our unique environmental heritage and cultural identity.

After your tenure as minister of Tourism is completed, name us one goal for the accomplishment of which you’d wish to be remembered. In other words, what is the sine qua non of your ministry?

The sine qua non of our ministry is to boost quality in all sectors. We are targeting quality at services, at tourist installations and facilities, at the category of visitors we attract, at our tourism awareness profile, at qualifications, occupational skills, and the span of tourism philosophy held by our human resources. The high wager we are placing for the years to come is that we will succeed in propelling Greek Tourism as a whole to make a distinct, quality leap forward that will allow us to win over our side the largest possible share of the tourist market, to establish ourselves among the top tourist destinations, to make Greece a world power in the realm of tourism.

Are you going to visit us anytime soon?

Yes of course. Our frequent contact is very important in our effort to promote Greece as a world power in the tourism world market. My visit to the United States will offer us the opportunity to exchange constructive views and ideas as to how we can better promote the Greek tourism product internationally. We are looking forward to communication and feedback from all of you. We seek the sort of cooperation that the Greek American Community can give us. After all tourism is Greece itself and Greece is a matter that concerns one and all. Greece is who we are.

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