The Minister of Tourism points out that our country is very high in the preferences of travelers from Europe
The belief that the contribution of Greek tourism to the Greek economy will be even greater in 2023 than in 2022, Tourism Minister Vassilis Kikilias expressed in an interview, pointing out among other things that pre-bookings are at high levels. Speaking to the Athenian-Macedonian News Agency, he states that passenger traffic in “El. Venizelos” surpasses the performance of 2022 as well as the pre-pandemic period, while our country is very high in the preferences of travelers from Europe, as data from the major tour operators show. In fact, Mr. Kikilias underlines that the Berlin International Fair showed a 10% increase in bookings to Greece compared to 2022.
After reminding that tourism cannot be on “automatic pilot”, he notes that all the previous time there were openings in new markets and the Ministry of Tourism proceeded with agreements with strong players. In the meantime, the Minister of Tourism emphasizes that the Greek tourism product has already been promoted with targeted campaigns throughout the year, estimating that “this year too we will have an excellent season”.
Looking ahead to the new tourist season, Vassilis Kikilias pointed out that this year the season started earlier than ever in the islands of the South Aegean. It is characteristic that on March 11, Rhodes welcomed the first direct international flight. On the same day, direct flights from the USA to “El. Venizelos,” with Delta’s previous season’s flights having ended just two days before. “Therefore, not only did we implement the extension of the tourist season, but we also managed to develop Greece into a travel destination for the whole year.”
In his interview, he refers extensively to the tragedy in Tempi and the pathologies it highlighted, but also to the re-closing of the beach of “Navagio” in Zakynthos. Finally, it gives a clear indication of what is at stake in the elections.
The following is the full text of the interview of the Minister of Tourism Vassilis Kikilia to the Athenian-Macedonian News Agency and to Kostas Chalkiadakis
Q: The tragedy in Tempe highlighted the pathologies of the Greek state, which even the current government failed to deal with – at least as far as the Greek railways are concerned….
The tragedy of Tempe has shocked me as a person and as a father. I sympathize, as the whole of Greece sympathizes. But no one can experience the Calvary that the families, relatives, friends of these lost people ascend. And this sincere apology that I want to say to these people and to the entire Greek society, will be accompanied, as the Prime Minister mentioned, with real measures, with radical changes, in order to correct the pathologies of the Greek railways. In this tragic accident, unfortunately, all the worst characteristics of the Greek state met: nepotism, meritocracy, contractual interests, pre-handiwork, shoddy work, stagnant contracts, perennial political liability and toxic party rivalry. But you will allow me to say that in this tragedy there is both virtue and hope. In the first waves of the pandemic, when I was in charge of the Ministry of Health, I saw the same public, the public doctors, the nurses, the EKAV drivers, the cleaners, the bank tellers fighting inside the hospitals so that no one leaves their shift, they take care of our fellow human beings, that human lives are saved and that political dialogue – the minimum of consensus we need in such circumstances – is at a better level. I have to say it, because we saw these children who entered the wagons and saved their fellow human beings. These children are the hope and the virtue on which we must build the next day of the Greek state. Heavy debt and great responsibility. That is why the government must move 20 steps ahead of the Greek society that is demonstrating peacefully – I am not referring to the usual bahalakis – in the streets and asking for security. The government has already taken the first steps, with careful steps, to change what has hurt us.
Q: Last Thursday it was announced the closure of the world-famous “Navagio” beach. How did you come to this decision, which is expected to have significant costs for tourism in Zakynthos?
The safety of residents and visitors is above all and the decision was taken taking into account the new scientific data of the Organization for Antiseismic Planning and Protection and the president of Professor E. Lekkas, who suggested that the area is dangerous for visitors due to significant erosions that have been suffered the rocks. Based on the findings of the autopsy, a meeting was held between the Ministry of Climate Crisis and Civil Protection, the Ministry of Island Policy, the Ministry of Tourism, the Hellenic Police, the Coast Guard, the Region of the Ionian Islands, under the coordination of the Presidency of the Government.
As Minister of Tourism I am the last person to want the beach to be closed, although boats will be able to pass by and visitors can enjoy and photograph this unique attraction of our country.
However, it would be criminal to ignore the advice of the experts and endanger the lives of residents and travelers visiting the “Wreck”. Above all, it is safety and human life. Zakynthos had an excellent year in 2022 with a 5.1% increase in passenger traffic compared to 2019, and with revenues that supported the local economy. Based on the data we have from the pre-bookings and in 2023 the performances will be even higher.
Q: Has the season started? What is the picture so far?
The season started earlier than ever in the islands of the South Aegean. On March 11, Rhodes welcomed its first direct international flight. On the same day, direct flights from the USA to “El. Venizelos,” with Delta’s previous season’s flights having ended just two days before. Therefore, not only did we implement the extension of the tourist season, but we also managed to develop Greece into a travel destination for the whole year. Two weeks ago, the tourist season opened in Crete as well – also earlier than any other year – and with scheduled aircraft traffic showing mass arrivals on the island from the last week of March. Then the tourist season is expected to start in the Ionian Islands as well.
Regarding the cruise, there we have almost reached our goal of 12 months of tourism. Cruise ships sailed to Greek ports until January, while in February the cruise restarted.
However, I would like to focus particularly on the US and Canadian markets. Last year we made a very big opening, for the first time we had direct flights from the other side of the Atlantic to “El. Venizelos”. This strategic agreement we reached with the American airlines brought the results you saw: American, high spender travelers in the center of Athens, even in the off season, significantly supporting the focus, trade and entertainment, in a difficult year for small and medium enterprises.
For this season, Delta from JFK airport has already started from March 11 with 3 flights per week, and from next Saturday the flights will be daily. From April 6, 3 flights per week to Athens will depart from New York and from May 6, daily. Emirates will continue daily direct flights and AMERICAN starts its own schedule from May 5 also for every day. From Chicago and Philadelphia the direct daily connection begins with the official start of summer on June 1, with more flights than last year. From Boston, flights start 4 days a week much earlier, on May 8.
In addition, flights from Canada with the populous Greek community are expected to add a big boost to tourist flows. From Montreal, the flights will start on March 31, Monday and Friday, and from May 1 they will be daily, with already a high rate of pre-bookings. Finally, from Toronto, the first plane will take off on March 28th 3 times a week (Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday). Other flights are expected to be added to this flying program, while as last year’s experience showed, many airlines replaced the type of aircraft they use with others of greater capacity. And this year at the Ministry of Tourism, against all the crises, we made every possible effort, so that in 2023 we will have a very successful tourist season.
Q: Last week the International Tourism Fair was held in Berlin, which every year is a “harbinger” regarding the development of the tourist season. What facts are there about Greece?
And 2023 is developing into a difficult year, with many challenges and crises. But like last year, this year too we left nothing to chance. I have said before that tourism cannot be on “autopilot”. We worked hard all the previous period – we made openings in new markets, entered into agreements with strong players, promoted the Greek tourism product with targeted campaigns throughout the year – and we believe that we will have an excellent season this year as well. Advance bookings are at high levels, passenger traffic at “El. Venizelos” surpasses the performance of 2022 as well as the pre-pandemic period, while our country is very high in the preferences of travelers from Europe, as data from the major tour operators show. The Berlin International Fair – which, as you rightly say, captures every year the trends for the following season – showed a 10% increase in bookings to Greece compared to 2022. I also mention the typical example of the Scandinavian Apollo: According to the tour operator, 70% of the bookings concern our country, while its executives estimate that Greece is likely to be sold out even before the summer. The contribution of Greek tourism to the Greek economy will be even greater in 2023 compared to 2022.
Q: What is at stake in the upcoming elections?
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis promised a pre-election reduction of taxes and contributions, and he implemented this in these 4 years by reducing 30 taxes. But the ND government had to face multiple external crises. And he did it with a plan, strategy, vision but also reflexively, effectively dealing with multiple crises, while wherever possible he supported businesses and society, those who don’t have and can’t, without derailing the country financially. The elections will also be held amid crises that European states will experience. The issue is whether the citizens trust this government and this prime minister or do we want to go back to the recent past and what we experienced with the SYRIZA government. Personally, I am and always remain at the forefront of the battle.
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