Greece has pledged to fund joint marketing campaigns with UK travel operators following what have been called “the most positive talks in years” with new Tourism Minister Olga Kefalogianni.
The news is a big boost for Greece after the country received a lot of negative publicity prior to the elections recently. Kefalogianni is the first dedicated minister for tourism since 2009.
She held a very positive meeting recently with major tour operators and Abta after bookings dropped earlier this year.
However some Greek islands such as Corfu, Mykonos, Crete, Rhodes and Santorini have actually seen a rise in bookings which are up by as much as 15%, although the overall picture shows the Greek market down by 9% so far this year.
Meanwhile, Lady Gaga is the latest celebrity to fall in love with Greece. The pop icon has bought a large piece of land in Crete and reports say she plans to build a multi million euro “palace” on the island – quite a contrast to the simple house on Hydra that Leonard Cohen bought for $1,500 in the sixties.
Now that many major UK operators will be splashing Greek blue seas all over their ad campaigns thanks to the new funding, there is some good news for timeshare owners, too.
The new Nea Democratia government says it will cut the VAT on food and drinks to 13% after it rose to 23% last year. It may also slash VAT on hotels and restaurants to help boost tourist numbers further. Kefalogianni says she is hopeful that VAT on food and beverages will be reduced by the end of this year.
Bookings are already up in the few weeks since the new government came into office. A more settled political climate, fewer negative headlines (which Kefalogianni calls “exaggerated and unfair”) and the favourable exchange rate all seem to be helping – in fact travel operators are reporting a substantial surge in holidays to Greece in the past fortnight alone.
The new Minister also has plans to promote more golf, yachting and eco-holidays, and says cruise holidays will also be part of the new strategy. She hopes to encourage cruise lines to moor their liners in Greece and also feature more Greek ports in the country in their 2014 programmes. “We see great potential in this area and it’s important for us to develop,” she said.
Sustainable tourism is also highlighted on the agenda, with a focus on new eco-friendly hotels and the promotion of unspoilt areas.
Greece’s idyllic scenery has graced the big screen for decades: blockbusters including Mamma Mia, Shirley Valentine, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Zorba The Greek, as well as scenes in The Bourne Identity and many Bond movies have all been filmed there.
The British love affair with Greece is one of the most enduring holiday romances since tourism in the southern Mediterranean took off in the late sixties. “The UK is the second-largest tourism market to Greece, but in terms of importance it is number one,” says Kefalogianni. “We have strong ties with the British market.”