New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
No country in the Eurozone, other than Cyprus, depends on tourism more than Greece, but tourism has actually ceased to exist during the COVID-19 pandemic. Central to the economic recovery of Greece from the 2008 crisis, tourism will remain equally as essential, if not more so, for economic recovery after COVID-19.
In 2019 the tourism sector accounted for more than half of Greece’s economic growth, contributing more than 20% of the country’s GDP, and 90% in some areas, such as the southern Aegean, and early 2020 forecasts were indicating that this would be another record-breaking year. This however, is no longer the case.
Now is the time we need to go to Greece. This was one conclusion reached in the third talk of The Hellenic Initiative’s Digital Speakers Series, “Will We be able to travel to Greece this summer? How is COVID-19 affecting Greek Tourism,” on May 20, a talk with two highly influential members of Greece’s tourism sector, Ioanna Dretta, CEO of Marketing Greece, a nonprofit which works directly for the promotion of Greek tourism, and Dr. Andreas A. Andreadis, CEO of Sani/Ikos Group, which owns and operates Sani Resort, Greece and Ikos Resorts.
THI Executive Director Peter Poulos, on behalf of the board of directors welcomed them to the talk saying, “Ioanna Dretta and Dr. Andreadis elevated Greece’s tourism sector to a new level; one we can all be proud of.”
“In 2007, Greece was on an upswing with 16 million visitors, a record and a milestone for a country with only 11 million citizens, when the financial crisis struck and the economy tanked and unemployment soared,” said Poulos, “Everyone watched to see if tourism’s numbers would increase, helping to lift the country out of the crisis, and they did just that… in 2019 tourism soared, with 33 million visitors, three times the country’s population.” When he observed successful new ad campaigns, marketing videos, promotions, etc., in the last few years he traced them, finding that “Ioanna Dretta always seems to be behind it. We are very fortunate as a country to have someone with her talents in this position.”
Poulos stressed, “Just as Greece needs Ms. Dretta and Dr. Andreadis, it also needs each one of you. We would like to state that THI will use all of its resources this year to encourage the diaspora Greeks to come home this summer.” THI cares about these points because “THI works to support entrepreneurs and development projects to reverse the “brain drain” in Greece. We can think of no better example of an industry that can bring just that than the tourism industry.”
Moderator Sylvia Klimakis, journalist and member of THI’s Young Leaders London, asked Dr. Andreadis the first question: “What are the aspirations for this season? What is a realistic economic target for this year, and how many tourists can we expect?
Dr. Andreadis noted that “Greece’s handling of the pandemic has been really impressive and puts Greece in probably the best position of all for the restart of tourism. I congratulate first of all the Greek people, because although we are not very famous for following the rules, this time people followed government initiatives simply because they believed the right people in the right place; we had the right scientists that were inspired by a government that put first things first, which was obviously to protect the people’s health. So, it’s really very, very good to see, since a long time, Greeks aligning… very leisurely, which is not one of the characteristics of our nation, as you know.”
The mediator asked, “What are the predictions? It will still be a couple of weeks away until we have full visibility of the flights’ resumption, and the flight resumption from US to Greece will be the key to when we start seeing business resume, said Dr.Andriades. He named July 1 as the possible date when the whole industry may converge to restart tourism because It looks as if airlines will start planning on starting flights around mid to end-June. “July will not be a month where the full flight capacity will be covered, but it will be the beginning of the turning of the wheel, which is very important. As the Greeks say, ‘the beginning is half of the effort,’ and it’s a big machine that has to restart.”
Dr. Andreadis said July will be the month that needs to be facilitated by EU agreements, bilateral agreements of Greece— first with countries that are also in the phase where the pandemic is going down rapidly. Then when a couple of million, or maybe more, people visit Greece from other countries, including the Balkans—all traffic will be monitored—the effect of Greece’s protocols will be put to the test. “Hopes are that the pandemic will stay at a very low, or zero level, because this will be the ultimate test—probably Greece will be the first country to open and see what’s happening. It is very important to implement the protocols; it is very important to keep on testing. But I am quite hopeful that once we start business, tourism will snowball positively, because people on social media will say what’s happening, and obviously this will create a positive.”
The mediator directed the difficult-to-predict question of how many tourists Greece will be expecting and what will be the hit on economic expectations again to Dr. Andreadis, who replied that this is very difficult to calculate now, not knowing the flights, not knowing the evolution of the pandemic, and the main source markets. “I believe that if Greece manages to recover anything above a third of last year’s numbers, it is the best case, because we start from zero, basically. We lost already a big part of the season, a big part of the connectivity. If we recover a third it would be a good base. If we get to half, it would be an amazing result, so I position between a third and a half. That’s my guess.”
The mediator asked Ioanna Dretta, “How difficult is your job now? Do you have any specific campaigns that Marketing Greece is planning to launch in Greece in the next few weeks that you could share with everyone?” Ms. Dretta said that after having received so many messages from people she doesn’t know, she understands that “tourism is a very hot issue and very close to the heart of the Greeks around the world.”
“As was said, Greece is a response leader in regard to the COVID-19 virus crisis—which is amazing and unprecedented. There has been “fantastic promotion and attention from really big media acclaiming Greece and the performance of the country, so our brand is, of course, stronger now than it used to be.” The next step is for Marketing Greece to help the brand even more, “inspiring Greeks to keep Greece at the top of their mind: Either they’re Greeks, or they’re internationals.”
Working closely with the Ministry of Tourism, the Greek Tourism Organization (EOT), and Steve Vranakis, the chief creative officer of the Greek government, Marketing Greece is creating a new campaign Ms. Dretta describes as “‘healing’ in the sense that it will describe all those characteristics of the Greek summer, the characteristics we really have close to our hearts—and probably they are part of the reason that so many people are here today—in order to describe summer as something more than a season, as being about feelings.” There will be two campaigns at the same time, one for the international audience and one for the Greek audience.
And she said they have to come soon, as the prime minister just announced the July1opening.
Question from the moderator: Is this the time for Greece to focus more on fewer tourists but more high-end, luxury tourism? Since we will only have half the summer season, is this a good opportunity to focus on extending the tourist season, for Greece to start promoting itself as a year-round tourist destination?
Dr. Andreadis believes that because Greece has a big advantage this summer and next summer. Due to its performance with COVID-19, “it will not be about price, but mainly about health quality, the considerations of going somewhere safe, with a concrete perception of the health system and the responsibility of the local community. This year the first message will be how government and companies will reassure the people that they’ll come and be safe, he said.
“At the same time, how do we reassure the local communities that there will not be millions of tourists who will bring the virus back to Greece once they got rid of it.” It’s a double question, he said, that clearly has to do with two things, “first, starting very carefully, with countries that are in the same phase as Greece. Secondly, doing extensive testing. I think it’s always a very good idea for anyone leaving Europe or the US and traveling this summer to do a test in advance, although it’s not going to be a requirement.”
Dr. Andreadis said that being tested before traveling sends a very good and very socially responsible message. The airports will take travelers’ temperatures, and resorts will be testing people who haven’t done the test, but not evey hotel and every community can test everybody going there, so being tested first in order to not spread the virus would be a very important message for people who are going to a country that is basically Corona-safe to understand. This is one thing to communicate to the guests who are coming, who would feel more relaxed themselves, as well, knowing that if they are tested on entering the country, they will not be quarantined.
Asked for her views on Greece becoming a more high-end destination, Ms. Dretta said, “I think we should keep in mind what tourism means. Tourism is not just a sector, it’s a chain of values.
It’s a super multi-state-held sector where the government, the private sector, even the society shape the final experience of the visitor… Implementing a strategy in tourism, or even having one, means that all these people are coordinated towards the same goal. We have to admit that it’s not easy, especially in Greece, where coordination and working together is not our best characteristic, although we all know that under crisis, we all perform.”
Ms. Dretta sees the 365-day tourist season as a political construct. Greece has 70-80 % of the income from tourism from summer vacations. This is normal, since not only is our product in this direction in that we have all those islands, we have that coastline. At the same time, the demand is seasonal. People normally travel during summer as a first priority, and then probably they have a city trip, or travel during Christmas, so I would say it is maybe too much to talk about tourism throughout the year, but yes, we need more extended product; we need more extended seasons, for instance the ‘shoulder months,’ like early summer and early fall are very nice months for Greece. Yes, perhaps the mountains and villages. But the country will remain as the ultimate summer destination with a fantastic city break in Athens and Thessaloniki, and of course we support the geographical distribution, but in any case, since the demand has seasonality, our offering is towards this seasonality. Regarding making Greece a high-end destination, she said, “We need to invest in the spending of our tourists, and not on how many there are.”
A question: What differentiates our advertising campaigns from those of our direct competitors?
In other words, what is our unique selling point? Ms. Drettta replied, “We are a fantastic country, a very beautiful country, fantastic people, but the competition in tourism is insane. throughout the world, and we need to keep that in mind. I believe that our competitive advantage is the people, whether they’re working in tourism or they’re locals. Apart from the beauty of the country, the history, the way of living, the food, and all those fantastic elements we have in our product, it’s the people.”
Dr. Andreadis added to this, saying that Greece is the ideal country to go to on holiday, if you can, this time of the Corona virus, naming the climate first in Greece’s selling points. “We have this amazing breeze and in the next months dining will take place outside, not indoors. You don’t need the air conditioning of tropical countries, where you have to stay in otherwise you boil. We have the fifth largest coastline in the world, with 15,000 kilometers. It’s a couple of hundred meters per visitor, so you know there’s space… and the spacing out in Greece is real, because we have all this amazing coastline, which is much bigger than France’s, Spain’s, Turkey’s, Italy’s, etc. Very few people know that this small country has such incredibly long coastline.”
Dr. Andreadis explained that practical steps are needed now. “Business will start when people are convinced the country is safe. It is the responsibility of the country as well as our companies to explain to people exactly what they should expect when they arrive, the protocols, questions of whether there will be distancing on the beach, air conditioning or natural air in the public spaces, the nature of the disinfection, what tests are done, etc., a myriad of questions.
“From the side of the public and the visitors, it is very important to pressure from the side of the visitors, and THI should play an important role in governments opening up borders, because nothing will happen if borders don’t open, and if airlines don’t see bookings on the planes once the border opens.
So it’s two things: no airline will set up flights if they don’t see demand, so the other part of the equation is people who are willing to come to Greece, and expressing their will to visit, and, of course, the bilateral agreements allowing the flights to resume.
“I think these will be the practical steps, and the reassurance will be the start of this new age of Greek tourism. As the season progresses, we’ll see a longer season. We will see a very strong September and October if things go well. The first wave will build momentum for the coming waves. Greece will be stronger. And hopefully by November when the climate is still great, Greece will see some extensions.”
The digital presentation was organized by THI’s Young Leaders London, Sylvia Klimakis, Spyro Ladeas, Dimitris Vlachopoulos, Maria D Lykos, Eleni Mitsani, Areti Koskosidi, who were all online for the talk.