The Greek Minister of Tourism Vassilis Kikilias, says his “priority is to set up the office of the Hellenic Tourism Organization (EOT) in Melbourne”
He also emphasised wider Greek and Australian bilateral relationships.
Talking to Neos Kosmos, Mr Kikilias highlighted “new initiatives of aimed at closer cooperation between Australia and Greece, using the Greek community in Australia as a “bridge”.
“Relations between Greece and Australia are close and based on both historic and Hellenic Diaspora ties.
“For decades the Greek Diaspora contributed to the formation, sustainability and strengthening of relations between the two nations,” Mr. Kikilias said.
Two years into an unprecedented pandemic, and with the Australian border closed for that period, Greek Australians are thinking of Greece, their families there and holidays. Many have already booked their tickets to visit for Greek summer.
“I know from my friends, the great desire of the Greek Australians to come to their homeland to see their loved ones again, to experience our unique beauties, to recreate ‘memories’ of images, tastes, fun, culture, and everything else that is our Greece”, said Mr. Kikilias.
As a tilt towards those who still have concerns due to COVID-19, or the developments in Ukraine Mr Kikilias emphasised that Greece “is a hospitable and safe country”.
The Minister was to speak to Australians on Tuesday, April 12, as part of the Greek Australian Dialogue Series. He was ready to provide more detail about setting up an EOT office in Melbourne. However, due to contracting COVID-19 the online event has been postponed. The new date will be set soon, and published in Neos Kosmos.
Read the full interview:
Neos Kosmos: Minister, what has changed from the summer of 2019 to now for Greece, specifically in tourism and travel in relation to COVID-19? And what should Greek Australians who travel to Greece have in mind – and what documents do they need?
Vassilis Kikilias: In 2021 tourism to Greece exceeded all expectations. Revenues that were budgeted at the beginning of 2021, doubled by November. We had formulated specific protocols that were strictly followed by tourism professionals.
As a former Minister of Health, who was responsible for this area, I can say confidently that our work paid off. Worldwide, travel selection criteria have also changed.
People travel where they feel safe, and Greece is a safe country. Also lifting of the obligation to show a negative coronavirus test for fully vaccinated travelers from Australia will have a positive effect in attracting more Australians.
Neos Kosmos: What does your Ministry know in terms of tourism traffic from Australia this year? Was the absence of Greek Australian, and other Australian tourists, in the two last years noticeable?
Vassilis Kikilias: As I said in the previous question, entry into Greece now has fewer restrictions, but we still have a goal of health security. On February 18, I had a meeting with the Ambassador of Australia in Athens, Arthur Spyrou, at the Ministry of Tourism. I said that it is important for Australia to remove travel restrictions for vaccinated citizens from February 21, which will significantly increase tourism from Australia to Greece in 2022. The Ambassador believes that 2022 will be a successful tourist year, as booking data show an already impressive number of Australian travelers and of course Greek Australians planning to visit Greece.
We wait for them with pleasure. For us, Greek Australians are “ambassadors of tourism”. They promote Greece as a country of great beauty, and a country where holidays acquire their true meaning.
Neos Kosmos: To what extent has the war in Ukraine impacted on tourism to Greece, particularly as some specific regions, rely heavily on Russian and Ukrainian tourists? What do you say to those who are worried about their safety, and fear war in Greece’s neighborhood?
Vassilis Kikilias: My job is to work every day to increase our tourism, so that we have a better year for Greece. However, this is a tragic situation, with grave loss of human life.
We are in solidarity with Ukraine and provide practical support. We are here to welcome, care for and accommodate refugees. We provide them with the opportunity to work in our hotel industry, in jobs that were not covered by the locals.
We stand shoulder to shoulder with them and support them in every possible way.
Regarding your question, we are working on a plan to support industry professionals working exclusively in these two countries.
We are also focused on target markets, such as Australia, USA, Canada, France, Israel to attract even more visitors. TUI Holidays, the largest tour operator in Europe, named Greece a No1 preferences for travelers, along with Spain. TUI Holidays CEO, Friedrich Joussen, in a teleconference with our Prime Minister on January 19, expressed the view that he will bring twice as many people to Greece in 2022, with his estimates reaching more than three million, and there are over three million seats available from France to Greece. Greece has unique beauty and is a hospitable and safe country.
Neos Kosmos: What is the state of Australian bilateral relationship, especially in tourism? Years ago, we had a memorandum of understanding for the issuance of a holiday visa, with the right to work, to 500 young people per annum from each country. How is this going and given the large presence of Greeks in Australia, are there prospects for closer cooperation and even new initiatives between the two countries, similar to what you recently announced with the United States?
Vassilis Kikilias: Yes, we are preparing new initiatives in cooperation with the other ministries, as this memorandum concerns the Greek government in general.
Neos Kosmos: Are you still looking to set up an EOT office in Melbourne?
Vassilis Kikilias: It is my personal belief that an EOT office will operate in Melbourne.
Neos Kosmos: What is your strategy and what are the initiatives for Tourism in Greece?
Vassilis Kikilias: Tourism is the engine of the Greek economy and contributes directly and indirectly to 25 percent of the country’s GDP. At the same time, many sectors, such as construction or the agri-food sector, lean on tourism.
The millions of visitors annually are potential ambassadors for Greece. Greek Tourism supports the economy and society, it benefits the average Greek family directly and creates jobs. Our strategy can be summarised in three points, upgrading the tourism product, high level services, and the extension of the tourism product.
Neos Kosmos: Finally, as we mentioned above, Greek Australians and other Australians are expected to travel to Greece this year, will you visit the Antipodes?
Vassilis Kikilias: I want it, believe me, I want it very much. I hope I can and meet you all up close. Until then, we are waiting for you, in your spiritual home for the summer holidays, and not only.