Elena Kundura: Greece is developing a new, more flexible and simpler visa issuance system
Greece is developing a new, simpler visa issuance system that will boost the flow of Russian tourists. This was stated in an exclusive interview with TASS by the First Deputy Minister of Economy, Infrastructure, Marine and Tourism Elena Kundura, who oversees the development of the tourism industry..
- Ms. Kundura, according to tour operators, the flow of tourists from Russia to Greece this year may decrease by at least 50% due to the growth of the euro against the ruble, which has significantly increased the cost of foreign travel for Russians. What are your predictions on this score?
- In recent years, a lot of our Russian friends have visited Greece. As a result, the Russian market has become one of the most important for the Greek tourism industry. Perhaps there are now slight delays in booking, but we hope and want to believe that in the end most of the Russian tourists traveling abroad will choose our country for their holidays..
- How, in your opinion, can Greece support the flow of Russian tourists - with discounts on hotel prices, the development of special "cheap anti-crisis tours" similar to what the Czech Republic is now offering to Russians, the possibility of switching to settlements in rubles, which Egypt is considering, or subsidizing air tickets, which, as they say, Turkey wants to resort to to attract Russians to its vacation?
- The Ministry of Economy, Infrastructure, Marine and Tourism and the Hellenic Tourism Organization (EOT) do not intervene in market mechanisms. Consequently, possible discounts on hotel prices apply exclusively to agreements between the owners of Greek hotels, Russian tour operators and all other partners. Subsidizing air tickets is an effective measure to increase tourist flow. But the EU has clear limits on this kind of intervention. However, there are ways to strengthen demand in cooperation with Russian tour operators regarding advertising programs and joint activities to promote tourism products. At the same time, the Greek Tourism Organization will communicate with Russians via the Internet and popular social networks in Russia. We participate in important tourism exhibitions in Russia, for example, in the International Tourism Exhibition, which will be held in the near future in Moscow, and we also carry out promotional activities to increase demand.
- Egypt from January 15 to April 30, 2015 canceled an entry visa for Russians worth $ 25. Greece, of course, cannot do this, but earlier the Greek Foreign Ministry said that it supports the idea of a complete abolition of visas for Russians visiting EU states. What is the position of your ministry on this matter? Do you think that sanctions against Russia negatively affect the flow of Russian tourists to Greece, and they should be lifted??
- Greece has stated its position on the free movement of citizens and visa policy many times. In recent years, we have adopted all modern methods so that Russian citizens wishing to visit Greece can obtain the appropriate visa easily and with the help of quick procedures. At the same time, in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we are developing a new, more flexible and simpler visa issuance system. We are very closely following any developments that may hinder the arrival of Russian tourists to Greece, and at every opportunity we express our firm position on this issue, because the ties that have united our two countries for centuries are especially strong. The common religion and the role of Russia in the history of Greece makes us especially sensitive to topics such as this.
- How many tourists visited Greece in 2014 and what is your forecast for 2015? How much money does the Greek treasury receive from tourism?
- The total number of people who visited Greece in 2014 is estimated at 21.5 million. Tourism is one of the most important pillars of the Greek economy, and its share in GDP reaches 19.3%, however, an important contribution of tourism in our country is that it gives impetus to the development of small businesses, supports personal enterprises, the regional economy and society as a whole. ... As for the new tourist season, we are already receiving encouraging signals about the growth of tourism in Greece. This success is facilitated by the constant improvement of the tourist infrastructure through the renovation and renovation of hotels, as well as the improvement of the quality of services provided, as indicated by major tour operators..
- What is your ministry's strategy for Russian tourists? What is it counting on - the increased share of four- and five-star hotels in the overall structure of the country's hotel industry in recent years, the spread of the all-inclusive system, or, say, on introducing visitors to local cuisine and gastronomy? The authorities recently circulated a denial that the all-inclusive system would be abolished ...
- In this regard, I have made a very clear statement: no action will be taken against the all-inclusive system. On the contrary, with the help of further qualitative improvement of specific tourism services, the dissemination of the benefits of this tourism product in the local market will be enhanced. Our goal is to link all inclusive packages with local travel companies in order to provide more choice for tourists while strengthening and developing the local market and regions. In terms of local cuisine and gastronomy, our country strives to become the capital of the Mediterranean diet and to make Greek cuisine famous all over the world. We want our Russian friends to get to know our country, our traditions even better and feel not only Greek hospitality, but also home comfort.
- I would also like to talk about pilgrimage tourism. There are many churches and monasteries in Greece, some of which have existed since Byzantium. If some Russians want to visit the monasteries of the unique monastic republic on Mount Athos in northern Greece, under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Constantinople from Istanbul, what is the procedure for obtaining permission to visit?
- There is a specific procedure for obtaining a permit to enter Athos. Mount Athos is a holy place and the number of visitors it can receive is limited. As you know, only men are allowed as visitors, and they need to obtain a special permit, which is issued by the Pilgrimage Bureau of Mount Athos in Thessaloniki. Visiting permission is given to visitors of any nationality, citizenship, as well as religion. Pilgrims who have received permission (called "diamonithyrion") from the Pilgrimage Bureau in Thessaloniki can contact the monasteries of their choice in order to arrange reception and accommodation there. Contact with the Pilgrimage Bureau of Mount Athos in Thessaloniki can also be made by e-mail. Those who want to visit Mount Athos should understand that this is a place of worship, monasticism, a spiritual place for those pilgrims who want to receive divine inspiration and visit the Orthodox monument.
Author: Yuri Malinov, www.tass.ru