Vicky Loizou, the woman who wants to bring teenagers, nomads, retirees and Australians at large to Greece

Photo: Facebook

Greece’s tourism season this year has been labelled by the international press as the “summer of patience” by those in the travel industry caught in the maelstrom of the global pandemic. For Greeks in Australia, it is a “test of patience” due to Australia’s closed border policy.

Tourism arrivals exceeded 30 million in 2017, said Trade Commissioner Katia Gkikiza, speaking to Greek Australian participants in the Open Dialogue series, organised by the Australian of Commerce and Industry in conjunction with the Consulate General of Greece in Sydney. Ms Gkikiza’s figures showed arrivals from Australia surpassed 300,000 for the first time in 2019, almost double from the year before in what was a “special year for tourism”. In 2019, the figures increased to 34 million tourists of which 340,000 were Australians.

Ms Gkikiza said Australians are “the ideal visitors” because they travel a lot, stay longer at their destinations and have a higher per capita expenditure.

Giving the big picture about the current situation, Vicky Loizou, the Secretary General for Tourism Policy and Development, spoke of the 50 million-euros worth of revenue which Greece yielded from tourism in 2019 in the industry which accounts for 20 per cent of the GDP and 10 per cent of jobs.

In 2020, there was a 75 per cent drop in figures due to COVID-19 which saw only 7.4 million visitors enter the country.

Ms Loizou calls the drop, the “pandemic pause”.

“Thanks to the response of the Greek government, the country’s brand gained significantly in terms of safety and reliability, and this has helped us, not only in the economy, but also in foreign policy,” she said.

The government’s first concern was to stop the system from collapsing with support measures, while planning a strategy for safe reopening. “It was really an opportunity for us to plan and take advantage of this new brand that we have created,” she said, while also referring to a new campaign strategy with promotion videos targeted to markets expected to visit the country – not Australia.

But with the pandemic pause, also came the opportunity to do some “tidying up”.

“When I came last year here to the Ministry of Tourism, I was surprised because, despite the fact that tourism is one of the most important sectors here in Greece, the ministry itself is not,” she said.

“It is a small ministry, and let’s say I thought that it was of another era in the past because digitalisation is not something they are used to and unfortunately there were no active registry with data of business of the sector and there were no interconnections with other ministries to have all the data we needed to really have a strategy.

“We first tried to make some reforms, simplifying all processes and procedures, changing the legal framework and digitalising the ministry itself and also the way we communicate with the businesses and the market players.”

The ministry has started working with the Greek statistics authority, establishing a sustainable tourism development conservative with a network in regional areas, and now, the ministry has started planning a 10-year sustainable development tourism strategy.

She said that thematic forms of tourism are part of the strategy for tourism development in the hopes of drawing people all-year-round, while also introducing initiatives to draw digital nomads and retirees.

Asked by Neos Kosmos, about how nomads and retirees would find Greece an attractive option for travel when a Digital Taxation Agreement is not in place, Ms Loizou said “we have first given emphasis on European people because it is easier for taxes”, but added that the Greek government was working with the USA to facilitate an easier tax process, and said that while she was “not familiar on taxation on Australian people” she would check to see what can be done.

Reminded of past travel programmes which allowed Greek Australian teenagers to visit Greece, courtesy of the Greek government, fostering lifelong bonds with the country of their heritage, Ms Loizou said, “Educational tourism is thematic tourism and we work together with the Ministry of Education so as to create the conditions” for such trips to be revived.

“Cutting through red tape is also a goal and interconnecting different sectors of the economy is important,” she said, adding that “using tourism as a vehicle for the whole economy” is one of her ministry’s goals.