Despite the deepening of the financial crisis, Greece remains optimistic about its tourism evolution. The message was conveyed by Greek Tourism Minister Aris Spiliotopoulos, who highlighted Greek tourism strategies during Greece international travel show Philoxenia in Thessaloniki.
Since early 2007, Greece has reshaped its strategy, emphasizing essentially quality and sustainable tourism. “We live in the euro-zone which makes the destination Greece more expensive than some of our neighbors. We have then to be competitive by enhancing our quality in full respect of our environment. We must definitely turn the page of a unique ‘sea and sun’ positioning,” said Aris Spiliotopoulos.
With 18 percent of share in the country’s GDP and employment provided to 850,000 people, tourism remains an extremely important activity for Greece. An importance which explains also the consequent marketing budget of €40 million for 2008 allotted to the Ministry of tourism.
According to Spiliotopoulos, the tourism ministry hopes to get a 7 percent increase in 2009, despite the financial global crisis. “I cannot elaborate more on this as the decision is into the hands of the Ministry of Finance,” he added.
For Minister Spiliotopoulos, it seems that Greece resists fairly well to a worldwide slowdown in tourist arrivals triggered by the ongoing economic crisis. “Although air arrivals experienced a slight decline of 1.8 percent, we still continue to record a growth rate of 10 percent for sea arrivals and even 30 percent for arrivals by road. This must be compared to Spain or Turkey which are recording this year falling demand of 5 percent or more this.”
Sustainable development is today very high on the Ministry of Tourism agenda. “We are already blessed to have turned our back to massive tourism developments in the past. In contrary to some of our Mediterranean competitors, our coasts are still today relatively untouched and immune from large accommodation units of concrete,” Minister Spiliotopoulos said.
The tourism ministry has been carried out projects to diversify Greece tourism products, especially by targeting specialized activities. Investments have been made for 14 new marinas around the country, the renovation of over 200 hotels, the development of agro-tourism, city break tourism or the launching of labels for boutique hotels as well as eco-friendly hotels. Promotion is also accelerated for less known regions such as Macedonia, Thrace or Epirus. “All these projects show that above all, we care about sustainability of tourism for our own future. We do not have inexhaustible resources. We consequently do not aim to double the number of our annual tourists from 15 to 30 million arrivals. If it was the case, we would destroy our infrastructures and exhaust completely our natural resources,” Minister Spiliotopoulos said.
The Greek minister acknowledges that the crisis will certainly leave its print on tourism activities in 2009 but he believes that efforts to diversify the tourism products as well as incoming markets already pay off: “We see strong growth from Central and Eastern Europe. We just opened an office in Bucharest and we look at strengthening marketing activities in the Middle East, Latin America, Ukraine, India, China and Russia.”
Marketing campaigns abroad have been supported by a modernized logo and a new slogan, “Greece, the true experience,” with intensive use of electronic media. “All these initiatives have been in place for over a year. It well help to show that Greek tourism is unique and will resist to the world financial crisis,” concludes the minister.