Greek tourism cruises to new heights

Associations, Conferences, Seminars, Forums, European Union, Events, Exhibitions, Marinas, Maritime Tourism, News, Organisations, Politics and Government, Ports & Terminals, Rowing, Sailing, Sports, Tourism — By on November 7, 2016 at 11:58 PM
Tourism minister Elena Kountoura.

Tourism minister Elena Kountoura.

Greek tourism cruises to new heights

by James Brewer

Buoyed by bumper tourism figures, Greece has pledged to increase its backing for the cruiseship sector. Elena Kountoura,  Minister of Tourism, speaking at the World Travel Market 2016 in London, declared: “We are working intensely on strengthening our position in the cruise programmes for 2017 and 2018, including popular and new destinations. 

“We are forming a new national strategy to enhance our cruise product over the next years, through a national committee where 28 public and private sector representatives participate.”

Mrs Kountoura said that the government was pursuing plans for the port of Piraeus to emerge as a key cruiseship and home-porting base for the Mediterranean and Europe in the next years. The new cruise terminal was inaugurated in October, allowing a larger number of cruise ships to dock at Piraeus at any given time. “Our strategic investor, Cosco, has revealed its plans to construct deeper anchorage, so even the largest cruise ships in the world can dock, and aims to more than double cruise arrivals up to 3m passengers.”

She said that Greece was the third leading European cruise destination, and stressed the importance of our sector for the growth of our national economy. She said later that she would be working with other ministries to further the cruise role.

Konstantinos Demenegas

Konstantinos Demenegas COO of the centre

Greece is the largest and most diverse complex of islands in the Mediterranean, with 16,000 km of coastline and more than 100 inhabited islands. “The islands’ close proximity and frequent interconnection, allows visitors to discover multiple destinations, and gain diverse experiences in one trip. Our crustal-clear blue waters are among the safest in the world and are ideal for cruises and yachting.”

News on the opening day of WTM 2016 presented a remarkably healthy tourism picture for Greece given geopolitical problems. Independent surveys showed that travel industry inquiry for the destination to meet customer demand was at a high level.

The minister said that 2016 was “another great year for Greek tourism.” International arrivals grew by 7% in the nine months to September 2016, according to Greece’s Civil Aviation Authority.

July, August, September and October were “the best months ever for our tourism.”  The cruise sector also had a significant increase, of more than 17% in arrivals at Piraeus, and up to 20% in other port destinations. By the end of the year, international arrivals were expected to exceed 27m, including cruise arrivals, which is a new high.

WTM Nov 7 2016 024

Stavros Niarchos Park and Opera House.

In the last two years, the average yearly growth was at around 7%, much higher than the global average.   “This has not been a random increase,” said the minister.”It was achieved through implementing a specific plan to boost our tourism on a four year period, while at the same time we have taken steps to counteract challenges and turbulent occurring in both 2015 and 2016. Our efforts have been commended by the United Nations World Tourism Organization General Secretary Mr Taleb Rifai who has referred to Greece as a ‘case study’ in terms of overcoming obstacles and maintaining a strong momentum in our tourism growth.”

The appeal of Greece continued to increase in the UK travel market.  Holiday bookings have increased 6% in September, and about 4% since the beginning of the year. The Greek islands experienced an increase in bookings of 7% overall from the UK. Early indications of bookings for 2017 reveal a significant year-on-year increase, said Mrs Kountoura.

Several airlines and tour operators have announced adding new flights to Greek destinations. UK carriers have announced new routes for 2017, including Halkidiki from East Midlands, Edinburgh, Leeds and Manchester, and to Chania from Birmingham and Bristol.

Julia Bradbury and some of her Greek family.

Julia Bradbury and some of her Greek family.

Athens alone has witnessed a significant increase in arrivals with more than 4m visitors last year, and a growth of 8% in international arrivals in 2016.

“We are attracting visitors from new and emerging source markets, including China, South Korea, Poland, Israel and countries in the Middle East such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. At the same time, we focused on the United States and Russia, from which we witness a strong upwards trend in arrivals to Greece in 2016. But we are also reinforcing our presence in dynamic markets such as the Scandinavian countries and Spain, and of course the UK, which has been and will continue to be a market of high importance to us.”

The minister said that a key plank of the development strategy was for tourism 365 days a year

Among further initiatives were to link the tourism industry to agricultural offerings. “The unique Greek virgin olive oil, pure honey, a great variety of herbs and spices and cheeses, our fresh local produce are fundamental and plentiful in our culinary dishes that are combined with exceptional varieties of Greek wines”

Mrs Kountoura referred to the new Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre in Athens which will be formally handed to the Greek state in January 2017. Most of its functions are already operational, apart from the Greek National Opera which will transfer next year.

She said that the complex was “the city’s newest cultural gem and one of the country’s largest infrastructure projects” that will house a 1,400-seat opera house, a 400-seat theatre, a 2m-book National Library and the 170,000 sq m park on the Faliro Bay shoreline.

The €566m complex was designed by architect Renzo Piano on a site that had been left after the 2004 Olympics.

Stavros Niarchos (1909-96) was one of Greece’s most successful shipping tycoons.

Miltos Karoubas, president of the Hellenic Chefs’ Federation

Miltos Karoubas, president of the Hellenic Chefs’ Federation

Konstantinos Demenagas, chief operating officer of Centre, said that the Foundation had given €1.6bn in grants in 111 countries since its inception in 1996. The Centre was a public-private partnership, with the foundation financing construction and the state providing the land. Every element of the project was designed to maintain environmental sustainability.

Television presenter Julia Bradbury said she was half Greek and proud of her Greek family – her grandmother was 99 years old – and heritage. Greece was “a destination that is on everybody’s wish list.  It might be a cliché but it really is one of those destinations that has something for everyone. It was a fantastic sailing destinations, and she loved sailing round the island of Chios “where my family is from.”

Miltos Karoubas, president of the Hellenic Chefs’ Federation, said that people used to think of Greek food in terms of moussaka and retsina, but these days the variety of gastronomy and venues was “sweeping visitors off their feet.” Domestic produce once overlooked was now being rediscovered.

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