Greece and its tourism sector can “thank the gods” for not sending a SARS victim to our shores. If they had, there is no doubt that the incompetence of our political leadership would have led the tourism industry to the brink of destruction. As it was, our health ministry managed to
discolor our tourism image with a single announcement: “Our recommendation is to avoid
people from these countries from entering our country. It’s a recommendation and I hope everyone has the conscience and obligation as a citizen to his country and the world.”
The health minister went on to say that we are in no position to forbid entrance to our country to anyone but his meaning was very clear, we want no arrivals from Canada or the Far East. Fortunately, the foreign press did not take the statement too seriously. Here in Greece, however, it was a different story.
Immediately after the statement, the Attica Hoteliers’ Association announced that it was fully behind the minister. The same message was heard from some members of the Greek Hotel Chamber. However, the former president of the Greek Hotel Chamber, Aristotelis Divanis, said in a radio interview that we should not make a big deal out of this situation but rather take the same simple safety measures as other countries. And Marios Trivizas of the Panhellenic Federation of Tourism Enterprises announced that we must refuse any extreme measures as they would do no more than destroy our tourism sector.
Nothing was heard from Greece’s public sector tourism leaders. In particular, the Hellenic Tourism Organization made no attempt whatsoever to soften the blow. It took no stand and left the whole sector to confront the situation on its own with nothing more than exaggerated press reports. The organization appears to have decided to take a back seat in the hopes that the storm would subside quickly, which it did. That’s when the organization arranged a seminar — well after the fact instead of prior to the peak crisis — with the health ministry and local tourism leaders from the private sector. Another precious lesson was picked up here: There are public sector professionals who really know their job and if it were not for the ineptness of politicians getting involved, perhaps the public sector would run smoothly.
During the seminar, the head of the Hellenic Center for Infectious Diseases Control (www.keel.org.gr) explained that his organization handles this type of crisis continually, and with many different communicable diseases, in close cooperation with the World Health Organization. He said there have been many occasions where Greece has had to take measures — for example the salmonella victims from Scandinavia a couple of years ago — and has done so diligently with no fanfare nor repercussions to the tourism sector.
All of the above clearly shows why any action that involves tourism must come only after discussions with professionals in the sector. This is a prime example of the importance of developing a strong National Tourism Council made up of all ministries involved with the tourism sector along with private sector leaders. This time we were lucky. The “gods” may not smile on us when the next crisis arrives.