//Interview: Greek tourism minister Elena Kountoura
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Interview: Greek tourism minister Elena Kountoura

Greek tourism minister Elena Kountoura shares with Anthony Pearce how Greece is evolving its tourism offering over 2019.

What are the newest tourism developments and where is the ministry/Greek National Tourism Organisation (GNTO) focusing its attention for 2019?

Our vision to establish Greece as an attractive 365-day destination globally is now becoming a reality. We focused on enriching our offering throughout the year by introducing new Greek destinations and authentic experiences, which, in addition to the high quality of our tourist product, make Greece stand out in the Med and Europe. Our enormous history, the rich cultural legacy, but also contemporary culture are our biggest assets. At the same time, we promote even more dynamically in 2019 through GNTO’s global campaign our religious treasures, health and wellness, luxury vacation, winter tourism, outdoor activities in our rich nature, gastronomy and wine tourism, and our wide offering for cruises, yachting and diving. Also, we promote ideal Greek destinations for weddings and honeymoons, and we are very pleased that UK travellers choose Greece as their most-wanted destination for a family vacation. Short-breaks are becoming increasingly popular in Thessaloniki and recently we received for Athens the World Travel Awards for top European city-break destination. We also focus on further expanding air connectivity to satisfy increasing demand over the next years.

How has Greece performed in 2018 and what are the expectations for 2019?

This is Greece’s best year in tourism. Between 2015-17, we increased inbound tourism by 25 per cent, with historical records in international arrivals and revenue. For 2018, we recorded a 15 per cent increase in arrivals and, even higher, 17 per cent in revenues for the first seven months, and the highest performance in all travel and tourism figures. Bookings continue to be strong throughout the autumn and for winter. We expect a new all-time record of more than 32 million visitors, including cruise, by the end of the year, a number triple our country’s population. It’s a spectacular year especially from the UK, one of our two main markets worldwide and a top priority to us. Air arrivals and bookings are up about 10 per cent for 2018 compared to last year and early bookings continue in strength for the next year. We will participate in WTM, aiming to further expand programmes and packages offered to the UK market for 2019

Is there any new airlift for 2019?

Following our negotiations with air carriers to introduce new destinations, we achieved a 7 per cent increase in airlift capacity from the UK in 2017 compared to the previous year. More than 230,000 seats were added to regional Greek airports, while seasonal flights began earlier than ever, in March – a strong indication that our goal to prolong the summer season is materialising. We expect demand will continue to grow in 2019. New flights have already been announced connecting Athens, Thessaloniki, Preveza, Chania in Crete, Kos and Corfu with London or other UK airports. We have also planned to discuss with air carriers in the near future further opportunities to expand routes, including more Greek destinations.

How big is the cruise sector for you? Will you continue trying to boost this?

The cruise sector is a top priority for Greece. We receive about three million cruise passengers yearly, and Greece is one of the leading European cruise destinations, the most diverse complex of islands in the Med and Europe, with a coastline of 16,000 kilometers – the longest in Europe – and safe blue waters. We work closely with the global and European cruise lines to introduce new attractive destinations, as Greece right now has more than 20 major cruise ports; Piraeus and Heraklion in Crete are our two main home ports. We plan in the near future to be able to offer six to seven new home ports. We also work towards enriching cruise packages with new offers, including land-based experiences, so that our visitors can maximise their overall travel experience with cultural tours, entertainment, nightlife, gastronomy and shopping at our marvelous destinations.