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Statements of Foreign Minister Avramopoulos and Tourism Minister Kefalogianni following their meeting

Thursday, 12 July 2012

 D. AVRAMOPOULOS: Good morning. I welcome Tourism Minister Ms. Kefalogianni to the Foreign Ministry and wish her every success. She has made a very, very dynamic start in a particularly difficult state of affairs. As you know, the Tourism Ministry has a special place in my heart. It was and remains today more than ever the development mechanism par excellence for our country. That is why the Prime Minister decided to re-establish it and put all his weight behind developing Greek tourism. Greek tourism creates jobs, brings in money, cash flow, optimism, growth.

I would like to assure my friend the Tourism Minister, Ms. Kefalogianni, that she will have the undivided support of the Foreign Ministry in the major efforts that have to be undertaken to optimize the development benefits this vital sector of the Greek economy can bring to our country. We have to do everything in our power to capitalize on every opportunity we have to strengthen Greece’s tourism product, its tourism identity, through the implementation of targeted initiatives that will bring more visitors to our country – particularly from emerging tourism markets – and enhance the quality of our tourist flows.

On the front line in this effort – at least on the part of the Foreign Ministry – is the simplification of visa procedures. Instructions have already been issued to all our Missions abroad to exploit any and all leeway provided within the framework of the Schengen Treaty so that anyone wishing to visit our country can get fast, efficient and friendly service. In cases where there is no Schengen issue, visas will now be issued within 48 hours. So that we can serve an even greater number of interested parties, the Foreign Ministry is moving ahead towards collaboration with visa centers, increasing the number of service points, even in cities where there are no consular missions. Finally, instructions have been issued to utilize the potential for issuing multiple entry visas covering a longer timeframe – even up to five years – as well as free visas for children under twelve years old, for pupils, university students and other special categories.

The data we already have from major new markets, like Russia, Ukraine and Turkey, is already very encouraging, with significant increases over last year. We will move ahead with the implementation of additional innovative ideas, like the pilot programme for easier visits to Greece from Turkey for third-country nationals, which is being implemented this summer for the first time. Naturally, we will be cooperating closely with market agencies, listening to suggestions and supporting the real economy.

We will now have ongoing contact and collaboration with the Tourism Ministry. In that context, Ms. Kefalogianni and I agreed on the setting up of a permanent mechanism for coordinating the two Ministries so that we can promptly and effectively meet the challenges that inevitably arise from the presence of millions of foreign nationals in Greece. Beyond the substantial and communication management of any matters that arise, this team will work on the systematic promotion of the positive image of Greece, which remains one of the most beautiful, safest and most competitive tourist destinations in the world.

Despite the negative forecasts, I am optimistic that the tourism prospects for this year will improve, because our friends in Europe and around the world realise that something has started to change in Greece. Already, the first signs of current activity in the market are very optimistic, very positive. And these millions of visitors we have this year will become – thanks to the initiatives and programmes being drawn up by the Tourism Ministry – ambassadors for Greece in their countries, and they will help break the vicious cycle of stereotypes. Greek tourism will spearhead growth. It will help all of us bring positive results. And on top of that, the Tourism Ministry’s initiatives and programmes will upgrade, enhance and improve Greece’s international image.

I thank Ms. Kefalogianni for the excellent collaboration we had, and, as I said earlier, we assure her that the Foreign Ministry will be at her side, at the side of Greek Tourism, so that we can break the ice that has unfortunately formed due to developments over the past two years in the general economic crisis, and once again give a positive outlook and prospects to the Greek economy and our country’s international image.

Madam Minister.

O. KEFALOGIANNI: Thank you very much, Mr. Minister. And I thank you for your hospitality and collaboration. Tourism is a national matter and collective responsibility. That is why it is imperative that we move ahead with drawing up tourism policy through collaboration and ongoing dialogue with other Ministries. This is the core of our policy: build invaluable synergies so that the various aspects of our policy can be implemented effectively, quickly, with more immediate benefits for the sector and even more multiple benefits for our economy.

The Foreign Ministry and Foreign Minister Avramopoulos, personally, are invaluable institutional allies for us on many specialized issues, such as the simplification of the process of getting entry visas to visit Greece. I think it is obvious that if we want to substantially increase the influx of tourists, we will have to make significant improvements to the existing mechanism. As Mr. Avramopoulos already said, instructions have been issued to our Missions abroad to capitalize on all the potential for speedier servicing of prospective visitors to Greece. In tandem, cooperation with visa centers is under development, and we have increased service points even in cities where there are no Consular Missions. These are extremely important and hopeful developments on an issue that was a major pre-election commitment to tourism, and this is already being implemented.

Another area of cooperation we are trying to formulate focuses on tourism crisis management. We’ve had two and a half very difficult years, with ongoing emergency situations, escalating social tensions and conditions that were often adverse for our tourism. What we want to do now is jointly, with the Foreign Ministry, deal with these volatile situations by using specialists with knowledge of marketing and crisis management.

In closing, I would like to underscore that however difficult things are for our tourism this year, we can do a lot to reverse the negative climate, and we are hoping for a recovery via institutional synergies such as this. The collaboration of the Foreign Ministry and the Minister himself, Mr. Avramopoulos, is invaluable to the effort we have begun.

Thank you very much.

JOURNALIST: [off microphone]

D. AVRAMOPOULOS: What I announced applies to Turkey as well.

JOURNALIST: … nationals via Turkey. We are talking about tourism.

D. AVRAMOPOULOS: Yes, of course. I’ll give you an example. A lot of Australians visit Turkey, and we want them to be able to come over to Greece without a lot of bureaucratic problems. That’s a specific category of visitors who often stopped their tour at the wider area of our sea borders. But a lot of other nationalities – many Russians, for instance – visit Turkey, and they will find the door open. Close proximity makes it easy for them to come, but until now there were bureaucratic hurdles.

The Tourism Ministry – through the experience we have all gained – has itself matured as an institution, and so it can now undertake such initiatives. The fact that we are here today says it is determined to shape a friendly, hospitable environment for the millions of visitors who come to our region. They don’t always have to have Greece or neighbouring countries as their main destination – they can find the door open to visit us. This all hinges on some fine-tuning that the Foreign Ministry and its Embassies and Consular Missions will take care of.

JOURNALIST: Mr. Minister, are changes going to be made to the way visas are issued to Turkish nationals?

D. AVRAMOPOULOS: In the case of tourists who – because of their many visits to Greece – really want to come back and have already gone through the necessary process for the issuing of the initial visa, why should they have to go through the process again after two or three months? That’s what we meant earlier when we said visas for multiple visits.

JOURNALIST: Ms. Kefalogianni, due to the political uncertainty here in Greece, there was a fall in reservations up until May. Did things stabilize in June? According to Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises (SETE) data, in May, as compared to last year, we had some 1.5 million fewer reservations. According to the data you have, has that number increased for June? How has it been impacted?

O. KEFALOGIANNI: The data the agencies have – because the data we have so far is from the Chamber of Hoteliers and some data from SETE – show a real rebound in reservations following the stabilization of our country, the normalization following the 17 July elections. Correspondingly, following the 6 May elections – in an environment that conveyed instability – reservations were blocked, and this is a reality that we have been informed was the case all over the country. Reservations have already shown recovery, but, unfortunately, no one can say that we can make up for the ground we lost in those previous months. Unfortunately, the previous government made no provisions for that situation.

I say again that we are now essentially in our third year without any tourism campaign abroad. We realise that when a country has been hit by so much negative publicity and there is no positive publicity, as Mr. Avramopoulos said, its not just the effort to manage the crisis – we also have to send our country’s positive messages. Otherwise, a negative climate is created for tourism. But I want to point out here that we can see how important social peace is to the functioning of a sector like tourism, which is so important for creating revenue and jobs. That is why we want there to be, if you will, an informal social peace contract, because this doesn’t concern just the government. It concerns all the parties and all the forces of our society. So it is vital that we allow tourism to function in an environment of stability and, as much as possible, social peace.

D. AVRAMOPOULOS: What Ms. Kefalogiannis pointed out is exactly right. Political stability is a prerequisite for our reopening our county’s path to growth and resetting the economy. At the center of what I said earlier is Greek tourism. Our country’s tourism product is very vulnerable and sensitive. Everything that went along with Greece’s international image in recent years inevitably impacted Greek tourism, as well. The formation of the National Responsibility government sent a message of political stability to the whole world, and we are already seeing the first positive results in the reactions of the global tourism market.

Not only do I agree with everything Ms. Kefalogianni said, but I would also like to emphasize that right now, at this moment, we all have an obligation to shape an environment of social calm, political stability. The first sector to benefit from this will certainly be Greek tourism, from which Greek society, the Greek economy, expects a lot, but beyond that it will also have to do more generally with the collective national effort to put our country back on the path of growth and progress.

Thank you very much.

O. KEFALOGIANNI: Thank you very much.