By David Bjorkgren
Special to the Hellenic News of America
Bring passion to your work and the tourists will follow.
So goes the success story of Greta Kamateros, director of the U.S. and Canadian office of the Greek National Tourism Organization. She was appointed almost six years ago from her native Greece. In that time, the number of U.S. and Canadian tourists visiting Greece has gone up double digits annually. In the U.S. alone, there are now 1,200,000 people visiting Greece.
Canada reports a 180 percent increase in tourism to Greece on specific months.
“I started to implement a marketing plan that was totally different than what was before,” Kamateros explained.
Until 2013, before she took over, people saw Greece only as a summer vacation spot. Visitors to Greece was actually declining.
Kamateros loved growing up in Greece and knew how much it had year-round. “We could offer so many things to the American and Canadian tourists,” she said. The trick was getting the word out. She created a team targeting different niche markets, reaching every potential customer. She also worked closely with airlines to promote Greece.
Canada has increased its number of flights to Greece for 2019. In the U.S., American, United and Delta airlines all hopped on board with more direct flights of their own seasonably.
Air Emirates now flies on a daily basis to Greece year-round. A few days ago, Norwegian Airlines announced they would also start direct flights.
“It’s hugely successful,” she said.
That kind of success did not come easy. Kamateros started with a vision, Greece’s success story. She backed that up with hard work, organization, marketing skills and a lot of teamwork. The collaboration and strategizing had one purpose—to raise everyone’s knowledge about what Greece had to offer.
Coming to North America and starting a campaign in this huge market was a daunting challenge for this Greek woman. “The North American market is almost equal to the total number of people in Europe,” she said.
She found a way to get into every home, raising the awareness of Greece as a year-round destination. She didn’t do it by herself. “No one can achieve anything on their own,” she said. To be successful, she needed the cooperation of her colleagues in the U.S. office and the approval of GNTO headquarters and the Ministry of Tourism. Her colleagues in Greece, including the general secretary, president and minister of tourism, also helped.
She relied on a network from the Greek and Greek American community, and the news media. The Greek Orthodox Church in New York showed its support early on. “It was the first time I felt that the GNTO office found open doors. We would find a great supporter in the church.”
She throws her support to newspapers like the Hellenic News of America and its publishers, Paul and Aphrodite Kotrotsios, for getting the message out about Greece and for keeping everyone connected.
Greek Americans, especially the second generation, know what is happening in Greece because the Hellenic News educates them, she said.
Several years ago, Kamateros started press trips to Greece, opening up that country to American and Canadian journalists. Through the GNTO, local Greek authorities and local tour guides, the journalists learned about the special places of Greece, off the beaten paths that don’t make top 10 lists. Greece is a land of 6,000 islands and the journalists had a chance to visit a few of the lesser known ones. She invites anyone to learn more about Greek hidden treasures and the special lives of Greeks by contacting the GNTO.
Her time growing up in Greece was a blessing, with a focus on family, church life, beautiful scenery and the camaraderie of a small village or town. The wisdom and philosophy of the ancient Greeks was always in the background, along with the wisdom of her Yaya and Papou, and the formal education she received in Athens. Kamateros earned a Master’s in Business Administration from Athens University and a Bachelor’s degree in political science and public administration from the National and Kapodistrian University in Athens. She recently earned a degree in Digital Marketing from the Columbia Business School in New York while she continues her education at Harvard Business School at 2019.
Recalling her childhood, “I had the opportunity to find myself surrounded by love.” She remembers the Greek food, the family dinners, the holidays, the support of the area priests, and a big family.
Despite her success, she does not see herself as a real leader or even a role model for other women. “I consider myself somebody that has a vision, the passion and the love for what I was doing,” she said. She prefers to be mentioned for her hard work and high expectations.
She is inspired by the other women who have risen to success as officers in the companies, associations and organizations she worked with. She’s also been inspired by the leaders of the Greek Orthodox Church and the government ministers that have worked with her.
For Kamateros, her job is not business as usual. “It boosts me through every day with positive thinking, with Greek spirit,” a spirit she sees in the people that share their experience visiting Greece. “That inspired me the most. That set the goal every year higher and higher for me. “
That Greek spirit is alive in the Greek American community. Many came to America with nothing years ago and went on to create fortunes. That community has come out in support of the GNTO geo-tourism efforts. “Whenever they are united, they can create miracles,” she said. Now the marketing push is on to connect second and third generation Greek Americans with their past in Greece. “We have to inspire them to go back and see where the past generations were born, to find their roots, to see where they came from. It’s very important.”
So where does Kamateros go from here? She quotes the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus. “The only constant in life is change.”