Greece hoping for continued increase in UAE tourists
Greek tourism officials are counting on a rise in demand from UAE travellers this year to support growth plans for the sector.
Visitor numbers from the UAE to Athens jumped 20 per cent from 2015 to 2016, Elena Kountoura, the country’s tourism minister, told The National before the opening of Arabian Travel Market in Dubai on Sunday.
She did not disclose exact figures.
The country now expects exponential growth in travel between the two countries since Emirates began operating a Dubai-Athens-Newark route in March.
The United States is home to the largest overseas Greek community in the world.
Mrs Kountoura said the Emirates flight was “very successful and the best flight they have right now for occupancy, beyond all expectations”.
The increase in tourists to Greece from the UAE and wider Mena region, which showed 55 per cent growth year-on-year in 2016, is a promising development for a country beleaguered for almost seven years by a rolling crisis over its €321 billion (Dh1.26 trillion) debt pile, owed to domestic and international creditors, including other European Union member states.
“We expect 30 million visitors in 2017 assuming everything stays like it is,” said Mrs Kountoura.
“Tourism is worth 20 per cent of our GDP with one million direct and indirect jobs. It is hugely important to us and we have focused on extending the season, promoting different sectors like cultural tourism and religious tourism, pushed to open new markets, like the UAE and China.”
Mrs Kountoura said that there was the possibility of meaningful co-operation on the tourism sector between Greece and the UAE.
“Dubai has done an amazing job adding attractions and high-end tourists. Greece is known as a value-for-money destination where you can get great deals, and the cost of living is not high.
"We were one of the first countries to agree to participate in Expo 2020 because we see the chance of working together. It is a totally different market as our target groups are not the same, we offer a cultural and ancient history combined with an island experience.”
The vitality of Greece’s tourism market, where the UK is third on its list of visitor numbers, could be tempered by Brexit. But the industry is sanguine about Brexit's effects. It has been suggested that no-frills airlines such as Ryanair and easyJet may have to leave the UK if they still want to ply their trade in Europe.
“We have spoken to UK businesses and they believe everybody wants to make a successful business,” said Mrs Kountoura. “I am not going to second-guess complicated conversations but focus on the positive.”
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Updated: April 23, 2017 04:00 AM