By Karolos Gadis
former Greek Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina and Deputy-Ambassador in Ankara and Washington D.C.
Approaching the end of the main high season touristic period in Greece, end of September, allow me to set up some observations and statistics which could contribute to the strengthening of the Hellenic – American cooperation in the Touristic sector.
According to the statistics of last years, Tourism – the so called “Greece’s heavy industry” – contributes more than 18% to Greece’s GDP, some 23% to the total employment system, results an income more than 15 billion dollars and shares a 2% in the world touristic market, while 3,1% in the European one.
Nevertheless, despite the general turmoil in the wider South-East Mediterranean area, the war in Syria, ISIS’ terrorism, the ramifications of the so called “Arab spring”, and the difficult situation in Turkey, the increase of the touristic visits in Greece was less than expected and, for sure, the touristic income was decreased.
Is this due because Greece is still under crisis, because of the immigrants and refugees problems in some regions of the country, or because of other parametres?
According to the Bank of Greece official statistics for the year 2015, 750.250 American tourists visited Greece, while 182.299 from Canada, 183.165 from Australia, 1.522.100 from France, 2.810.350 from Germany, 2.397.169 from the United kingdom, 1.355.327 from Italy and many others.
However the average touristic expense per person in the country, had been lowered year by year during the last decade, almost for all the tourists, from all the countries. In particular for the United States, while the average touristic expense per person in Greece was +/- 2.200 in 2005, it has been reduced to 1.100, in 2014.
At the same time France (with 84 mil. tourists), United States (with 75 mil. ) and Spain (with 65 mil.) are in the top list of touristic visits, Greece being around the 14th rank during the last years.
According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization – UNWTO, touristic competitiveness index is influenced by four sub-indexes :
- taxes in tickets and Airports
- hotel prices
- parity of purchase power (PPP)
- fuel prices
A recent survey of UNWTO emphasizes on the perspective that the global Tourism will reach 1,4 billion in 2020, and 1,8 billion in 2030, with an annual increase rate of 3,3%. Asian and Pacific countries will run a higher touristic development increase rate. On the contrary, EU countries will benefit a relatively moderate touristic increase.
Development of the Touristic Cooperation with U.S.A.
How could we better enhance the already existing touristic cooperation between Greece and the United States?
First and foremost, investments is the key word. In corroboration, just to mention that I was invited, on August 23d, to Senator Rand Paul conference, in Athens, on Greek-American relations. His overwhelming emphasis turned around investments.
Reinforcement of cooperation with Tour Operators for the organization of a bigger number of touristic visits in Greece, organization of activities for the prolongation of the touristic period if possible all year long, support to innovation initiatives and to new touristic products, are also of cardinal importance.
A clear definition of the urban planning for Tourism in Greece, is a must, since in a very great extend there are prohibitions and limits which are crossed with investing initiatives.
In parallel, a reconsideration of the taxation policy in Tourism would alleviate a very heavy taxation burden which is borne by all touristic stakeholders, thus, creating a wave of enthusiasm for new initiatives.
Due attention has to be given in the cruise tourism. It seems that this kind of tourism is very familiar to American people, thus, the increase of touristic visits from the United States is certain. In that respect, a prioritized improvement of marines, ports and infrastructure related to cruise tourism seems to be more than necessary, taking into consideration the difficulties which cruise sector has to face. In addition, statistics show that a good number of people visiting a country during a cruise, come again on a second touristic visit in the same country, after some years.
In this context it is obvious that the Ministry of Tourism has to be upgraded to a coordinating institution for all relevant administrative services, to combat bureaucracy and speed up the related procedures, becoming, in such a way one stop shop for every interested party.
Using all the possibilities of a digital touristic policy, we could give an answer “here and now” to any interested party.
Alternative or Special forms of Tourism always merit of our focus :
Cultural Tourism, in cooperation with U.S. Cultural Institutions
Sport Tourism, having in mind that in the annual classic “Marathon of Athens” participate more than 15.000 athletes from all the world. Furthermore, Olympia could always be related to the organization of a major sport event.
In parallel, we could promote Medical and Therapeutic Tourism, since there is a good number of therapeutic centers.
Winter Tourism! Yes, in Greece of “Sun and sea” there are 16 winter ski centers, possibilities for rafting or mountain bike, country tourism or city break!
Congresses and Conferences’ Tourism : Due attention should be paid here, taking into account the archeological framework, the nice weather almost all year long, and the possibilities for combination with other professional or touristic activities.
In addition, Yachting and Cruise is an increasingly promising sector, shaping the perspective for Greece to become a main hub in South East Mediterranean with six home ports : Piraeus, Heraklion, Corfu, Rhodos, Katakolon, Lavrion.
On 7th June 2007, I remember, I inaugurated, on behalf of the Greek Embassy in Washington D.C. the new direct air connection of Continental Airlines between New Jersey – Athens. It was the fourth direct U.S.A. – Greece air connection after United Airlines, Delta and of course Olympic Airlines.
We know the situation today, we know the sterile period of crisis, but we have to do our utmost in order to come back in our level. In the due level of Hellenic-American cooperation.
We have to promote Greece everywhere as a privileged touristic destination.
The historic ties between Greece and the United States will be better developed with an enhanced touristic cooperation. This cooperation should have two pillars: The initiative from one side but also the adequate measures facilitating foreign investments and touristic cooperation from the other.
Up to now it seems contradictory the fact that Greece is the first or one of the top touristic destinations in all the international touristic media and agencies and, at the end of the day, the touristic visits in Greece are less than expected.
The Hellenic – American Omogenia has already given repeatedly its assistance and its soul to Greece. We are grateful. They have confirmed in the best way what the greater of the French authors, Victor Hugo, has said : “You can change the leaves of your tree, but take always care for its roots”.
We all love Greece.
We all love further development of the touristic cooperation with the United States.
Let’s create the conditions to make it happen.