Greece Picture

A Travel Bulletin exclusive interview with Harry Theoharis, Greek Minister for Tourism

Harry Theoharis, Greek minister for tourism, is confident about Greece's tourism boost in the post-pandemic situation and has highlighted the measures as the country reopens, keeping travellers' health as the absolute priority

How has Greece tried to limit the COVID-19 impact over the last few months?

In retrospect, and while the international media is praising Greece's "success story" against the pandemic daily, the country's prime minister and government have not underestimated the risk and have taken action when necessary and continue doing so. We collectively followed the instructions of the scientists. In the early stages of the epidemic outbreak, we implemented a lockdown across the country very quickly, setting the health of the country’s citizens as the only and absolute priority. 

We have created mechanisms for informing people and upgrading online services. We have substantially strengthened the national health system. Almost all of us stayed at home, with admirable discipline, for about 42 days. After all, we have managed to get one of the best epidemiological records in Europe and the world. It looks easy, doesn't it? But that was not the case at all. The number of cases and deaths in many other countries, unfortunately, confirms this. Greece did what it had to do, setting as a top priority to protect people's health and lives.

How will Greece rebuild tourist confidence?

Travellers regaining their sense of security and trust seem to be the biggest bet for the tourism industry, not only for Greece but for the whole world. Everyone in Greece, with very careful steps, is inviting visitors from countries with good epidemiological characteristics, without the requirement of any kind of quarantine, before or after the trip. Individual responsibility and dignity are the cornerstones of implementing all these appropriate conditions for tourism.

In the meantime, after verifying that there is absolute security in every aspect of travel in Greece – in domestic travel, accommodation, visiting sites, enjoying the sea and nature, food and entertainment in the restaurants etc – the main message will be consolidated and disseminated: “Come to Greece too. No danger, no fear, no anxiety." 

This is our goal. This is the ideal and desired result that the pandemic and everything unpleasant COVID-19 brought to be left in the past. Of course, to get there, we work hard in every sector of the tourism industry. Most of all, we do not underestimate COVID-19. We have already instituted and are implementing a package of measures to protect tourists, workers and citizens. We follow the international practices for controlling and dealing with, if any, cases. But we can never eliminate the risk in the real world. We do our best to mitigate it though.

What measures are being introduced to protect nationals and visitors as Greece reopens?

In general, we adopt and apply to the letter the instructions of the epidemiologists and the pre-eminent competent service of the Greek state, the Greek CDC. The basic principle is the application of the rules of preventive social distancing in all phases of the tourism process and the training of professionals and citizens to effectively and consistently implement the necessary hygiene measures in all areas of hospitality.

At the airports

Especially for air transport, sampling checks will be carried out in Greece upon the arrival of tourists. The rules established by the official body of the European Union (EU), the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), in cooperation with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Centre for Infection Control and Prevention (ECDC) will apply. The EASA guide provides detailed and specific instructions for cleaning and disinfecting public areas at airports, as well as what travellers have to do in order to protect their personal health and those who move around them.

On transfer to the resort

Depending on the number of seats and the transport capacity of each vehicle, there is a maximum number of passengers permitted to ensure the distancing in the vehicle. The use of a protective mask for all occupants is mandatory, while drivers should wear gloves, avoid handshakes and ensure they have antiseptic fluid available and their vehicle should be adequately ventilated. After each transfer, the vehicle must be disinfected.

On beaches

Only outdoor swimming pools in hotels are allowed to operate, according to the current legal framework. Indoor swimming pools are prohibited from operating. Due to physical distancing requirements, the layout of seats on swimming pool decks (sunbeds, chairs, sun loungers etc) should be arranged in such a way that the distance between the ends of the seats of two people under two different umbrellas shall be at least two metres in each direction. It is recommended for hotels to cover seats, tables, personal storage boxes, staff notification buttons and price lists with materials that can be effectively disinfected. All seats, tables, personal storage boxes, price lists and any other items should be disinfected after a guest leaves and before used by another guest. It is recommended for hotels to offer towels that will cover the entire surface and disinfect each sunbed/seat after every use. It is recommended to remove fabric surfaces from sunbeds.

At theme parks and attractions

Rules for social distancing, seating distribution and gathering size apply. A specific number of guests are allowed in each space, depending on size. 

What regions or islands are being promoted to tourists the most?

For us, Greece is one whole country and there are no distinctions between the places that the tourists will choose for their holidays this year. Of course, especially for this year, we have developed an action plan depending on the infrastructure of each tourist destination, the possibilities of health checks and access to public health structures. However, I emphasise that this was done in the context of an operational plan so that we are fully prepared to act immediately in case of emergency. This is even in remote parts of Greek territory, such as certain islands, where guests seek peace and seclusion.

How important is sustainability as Greece opens for business again?

The Ministry of Tourism, at least since last July when our government took office, has been promoting and implementing sustainable development practices. Our care for a clean, environmentally-friendly tourism is further underlined by the recent legislative measures adopted with the approval of the Hellenic Parliament. For the first time, the development of special forms of tourism, such as diving, which clearly presupposes close interaction with nature and, consequently, the sensitivity for the protection of the natural wealth of Greece, is clearly defined and institutionalised.

What plans do you have to engage with travel agents in the coming months?

I am in continuous contact with our stakeholders in the tourism market, both at the level of large tour operators and smaller agencies. I am pleased to note that Greece is among the top two to three choices on the list of offers to their customers this summer. Let's not forget, after all, that travel to Greece, accommodation, food – the overall tourist "package" if you prefer – from a purely economic point of view, is extremely attractive. The ratio of quality services to costs is almost unbeatable.

What top sales tips can you give agents to help them sell Greece more effectively?

Greece's profile has not changed. However, after the exemplary management of the unprecedented health crisis by our government, the prestige and trustworthiness of Greece have shined even brighter. Greece has some of the most emblematic and great archaeological sites on the planet. Acropolis of Athens and the temple of Poseidon in Sounio are some of the monuments that literally take every visitor’s breath away. It is a country ideal for holidays and leisure activities of all kinds, a top destination in the Mediterranean, in a strategic location, within a few hours reach. The list of Greece's advantages as a tourist destination is long.

Are there any virtual tours available to inspire agents and travellers?

The Hellenic Tourism Organization has a wonderful YouTube channel, called “Visit Greece”. The videos you can find there, literally take you on a trip to our country. You want to give up everything and get on the first plane there. Even myself, I am often carried away by these images and admire my homeland as if seeing it for the first time. Because it is not only the stunning landscapes, ancient history, the unique beauty and important sites of the country. It is the people, the culture and the flavours. One realises this immediately, especially from the series of clips we created during the lockdown. With the project “Greece from home”, we showed what Greece really is, what our homeland is. We invited literally everyone into our home.

What is one major motivational message or positive thought of the day to come from Greece?

Travel means the right to freedom and above all happiness. We take care of ourselves and take care of our guests. We proved it. Greece is ready and opening the most hospitable embrace in the Mediterranean, and, step by step, for the whole world.

Image credit: Jennifer Stahn/Flickr


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