A discussion with the Minister of Tourism Haris Theoharis and top hoteliers Tim Ananiadis and Konstantinos Georgiadis with AHI’s Nick Larigakis – EU may exclude USA from July 1st opening
New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
Prime Minister Mitsotakis has promised that the Greek government is working under these difficult conditions to make it possible for us to travel to Greece this summer.Greece needs us now more than ever, and the 11th Greek News campaign, “Let’s Go to Greece” has us planning. However, in the American Hellenic Institute’s (AHI) June 24 live presentation, “Greece is Ready to Welcone You. What You Need to Know,” although Minister of Tourism of the Hellenic Republic, Haris Theoharis, said that Greece will be fully ready to accept visitors from the rest of the world on July 1, it remains to be seen whether the US will be one of the countries the EU allows in on that date.We’re optimistic. And Greece in the autumn, which still seems like summer, is thought to be even more beguiling.
Summer, autumn, or later, one thing is certain: Greece is the safest country to visit, not only because of the country’s examplary handling of the COVID pandemic, but also due to the health initiatives Greece’s government is taking to fulfill its campaign slogan, “Health First”. “Our ambition is not to be the number 1 country in tourism this year. Our ambition is to be the safest country in tourism this year,” said Minister Theoharis.
Greece is Ready to Welcone You. What You Need to Know,” part of the AHI’s Virtual Speakers Forum at Hellenic House, hosted by AHI president Nick Larigakis, brought together the right people to provide information that will help with this summer’s trip-making decisions: Minister of Tourism of the Hellenic Republic, Haris Theoharis; Tim Ananiadis, General Manager/Managing Director, Hotel Grande Bretagne, King George; Konstantinos Georgiadis, Vice President and General Manager, Amphitryonic Travel USA,
“Over 6 million diaspora Greeks around world are interested in going to Greece this year…consider it their birthright” to go to Greece every year, all year, but especially in the summer to relax with friends and family and enjoy Greece’s sea, sun, and food, “re-energizing for the rest of the year,” said Larigakis, but “this year the pandemic has challenged international travel with various restrictions. Our panel is here today to provide us with up-to date information, althoughinformation continues to be fluid, and can change on a daily basis.”
Larigakis provided perspective on the real-time importance of tourism to Greece by citing some statistics on the Greek economy and the hospitality industry. “According to statistics, 1.1 million Americans visited Greece in 2018…. but there is more to this than Greeks from around the globe gathering together; it also means ‘life and death’ in certain ways, as it relates to Greece’s economy and to those who work in the hospitality industry. 2019 tourism numbers as issued by the World Travel and Tourism Council accounts for 21% of Greece’s economy, or 43.6 billion dollars. It also accounts for 22% of the country’s total employment, which translates to 846,000 jobs. Other statistics show that it is possibly over 30,000 of Greece’s overall GDP. So, tourism is an exceptionally important income component of the total economy and to the Greek people. The shipping industry makes up another enormous portion of the Greek economy,” he added.
In 2019 there were approximately 35 million arrivals to Greece, said Larigakis, “A recent study conducted by Deloitte and Ernest Young has the numbers dropping to as low as 14.5 million for 2020, and they paint some different projections for the recovery of the Greek economy that could last from 2-5 years to reach the levels of 2019. We hope that’s not the case. As I mentioned, there were 1.1 million visitors to Greece reported in 2018 statistics.
Larigakis brought attention to “some alarming information posted on the US Embassy’s website, over the last 24 hours that the EU is thinking about potentially closing down travel to Greece from the US, before turning the discussion about the latest health restrictions imposed by the EU to Greece’s Minister of Tourism, Haris Theoharis, who emphasized that at no point did Greece take the coronavirus lightly, “as everybody had to come to grips with the very difficult reality. Greece has managed to show global leadership in terms of. the way that we dealt with the first part, at least, of this crisis, where we had to make people’s lives, the health situation, our first priority. We did that very, very swiftly. We did that with great determination by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. He took tough decisions and took them very early. We banned Carnival celebrations two days after we had our first coronavirus case; we only had two cases when the celebrations were banned. This was not an easy decision, I can tell you. It was not an obvious decision and it was not an unopposed decision within the populace, and, of course, within the opposition… and sometimes within the party of the incumbent. However, we very quickly aligned, and worked together very effectively as a government, and the people that served in the front line of the agencies—the coronavirus heroes, if you like—the health people, the police…the civil protection people, who had to ensure that everything went according to plan.
“Finally, the third part of the equation, or the ‘recipe’, if you will, was the determination of the Greek people to take this seriously, to not succumb to conspiracy theories, to actually accept the expert advice like the Prime Minister and the government did, and accepting this advice, to stick to the rules,” he said, about the Greek people’s adherence to the government’s directives regarding COVID protocols. “Now, by sticking to these rules, we have shown how it can be done, and I think that all of us, the Greek diaspora, and the Greeks within Greece and outside of Greece alike, can stand tall, knowing full well that the numbers that we are dealing with—both in terms of death and number of cases—are world-class numbers.
This has allowed Greece to move to the next phase, which is today’s phase, the opening of initially, the internal restrictions; we are more or less fully operational within Greece. Now to restart there are 2 phases. In the 1st phase was on June 15, when the two airports opened, the land borders were opened. We have specific rules on the tests and the kind of quarantine that we sometimes require. But from July 1 we will have a more widespread opening of the sea borders.
“As you can imagine, this is a very hectic period,” said Minister Theoharis, “I have just come from an operational meeting with a number of ministers, trying to put everything in order and how to deal with things, and I can tell you that Greece will be fully ready from July 1 to accept visitors from the rest of the world.”
What’s important, especially for the people from the US, he said, is that Greece “was the first country to announce the kind of plan that we were putting in place. This spurred the EU Into action. The EU could not agree on a common set of rules, and only after we announced our rules and the kind of ‘fracas’ that it created, this was the goading that was needed for the members of the EU to come up with a common policy,” that they were looking to July 1 to open as much as possible internally and connectively.
“This has led to almost full compliance,” said Minister Theoharis, “There are still some pockets of changes—from Norway, etc., but we are actually coming to an opening of the internal borders. It’s almost June 25 and we still haven’t come up with a common set of rules on which countries to allow. We have said that ‘when we allow, we will allow without any quarantine anymore’, but we will all need to do testing on a targeted basis. The list of countries that will be allowed in is a discussion on an EU level.
“I’ve read the reports about the US. It is quite possible that the US will not be in the initial set of countries that will be allowed. But the jury is still out. I’m not even sure that Europe will come to a common set of rules. If that does not happen pretty soon, I’m afraid that Greece will have to again, take a stance and make a decision and try to open up… in which case, at least my personal position will be that not that the whole US but some of the states that have better epidemiological data should be allowed, and also, we should try to make exceptions for the Greek diaspora. Understand that this is an ongoing discussion, so I can’t give you definite answers yet,” he said.
Minister Theoharis made points that were very reassuring to hear in the climate of the pandemic. He outlined initiatives Greece has taken for accepting visitors in a safe mannerbeginning with the 4 pillars making up Greece’s destination phrase, “Health first”.The choice of countries is the “first pillar”.The ‘second pillar” is the testing when people come in.The ‘third pillar’ is the fact that Greece has instituted strict hygiene protocols so that even if someone is undetected they have no big chance of spreading the disease widely, and finally, “Greece have strengthened its health system “in every small destination, in every little island, ensuring that we can deal with every case, be able to handle the case and at the same time will be able to foot the bill for COVID cases.“
“People coming from abroad will not have to have insurance as far as COVID is concerned. We will be able to take care of any cases in our healthcare system. The quarantining, testing, possible hospitalization, and any other needs that may have. Sopeople can have peace of mind. They will be both safe and relaxed when they come to Greece. Our ambition is not to be the number 1 country in tourism this year. Our ambition is to be the safestcountry in tourism this year.”
To see the live presentation: