WTM 2019: Greece ‘took Thomas Cook collapse in its stride’

Greece’s new tourism minister has shrugged off the impact of the Thomas Cook collapse on the destination while outlining plans to attract winter and dive tourists from the UK.

Harry Theoharis, who has been in place since August, said investment in Greece and support given to hoteliers meant the country was geared up to withstand the fall-out of Cook’s failure in September.

He said: “We feel we have taken it in our stride. Greece is in a particularly good place because there has been a lot of investment in the last few years so the product has been upgraded. We are a strong destination and that’s why we feel we have a chance to replace the (airline) slots and hotels (formerly used by Thomas Cook). We have helped hoteliers and there has been a lot of demand coming from other places to fill the demand. We are pretty confident the impact will be minimal and not long lasting.”

The destination is now hoping to make itself more attractive to the UK market by positioning Athens and Thessaloniki as winter city break destinations, while also urging tour operators to lengthen their summer seasons slightly in the destination.

Most UK holidaymakers travel to Greece during the summer and do not recognise it as a winter destination, said Theoharis. The number of UK visitors that travelled by air to Greece in 2019 grew by 5% on 2018, compared with a slower growth of 3.34% for arrivals overall. The UK looks set to overtake Germany by the end of this year in arrival  numbers, he added.

He said: “We want to emphasize that Athens and Thessaloniki and other cities are ideal for three or four night breaks in the winter. Athens has had a big influx of investment from the new sharing economy and from hotels being built from former listed buildings and flats. There is plenty of culture and things for people to see, and the whole riviera. Now is the time for tour operators to build relationships with suppliers in Athens.”

The minister said Greece also hopes to market itself as a dive destination to the UK. New laws are due to be passed at the end of this year by the new government to lift current restrictions on diving to see ancient wrecks and dive from liveaboard boats.

“We are trying to remove the restrictions so people can dive to more archaeological sites and this will help develop the dive market. We are establishing a national dive council that will promote the growth and development of dive tourism in Greece and put it on the diving map; we have a bigger coastline than any other country in Europe,” he said.

The country has 13,600km of coastline and 6,000 small and big islands.

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