By Nikos Krinis
Greece received positive and optimistic messages from the German market at the leading trade fair for the worldwide travel industry, ITB Berlin, which marked 50 years. ITB Berlin 2016 took place March 9 to 13.
“At ITB it was confirmed once again that Greece was and remains one of the most favorite destinations of German travellers”, the Greek Tourism Ministry said in a statement following the exhibition.
Tourism Minister Promotes Greece
During ITB, Greek Alternate Minister Elena Kountoura’s agenda included meetings with leading German tour operators, the Secretary General of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Taleb Rifai, the Parliamentary State-Secretary at the Federal Ministery for Economic Affairs and Energy Iris Gleicke and the Governing Mayor of Berlin Michael Müller.
“Meeting with leading tour operators at ITB, we have received very positive feedback from the German travel market, which has confirmed the increased demand in bookings for Greece”, Minister Kountoura said.
The German Travel Association (DRV) and leading tour operators that handle a significant share of European tourism — such as TUI Germany and Thomas Cook — informed the minister that demand for holidays in Greece was up.
“This year Greek tourism is expected to see an even better year than 2015”, she added.
UNWTO projects a positive 2016 for tourism in Greece
During ITB, UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai expressed the organization’s confidence in the continued growth of the tourism sector in the country.
“We have no doubt that Greece will maintain a powerful image worldwide as a major tourism destination and that the country will consolidate its growth in 2016, as shown by booking trends”, Mr Rifai said on the sidelines of ITB when he met with Minister Kountoura to discuss the situation and prospects of tourism in Europe and Greece.
On its part, the Greek Tourism Confederation (SETE) predicted that 2016 will see another record year of visitor arrivals to Greece.
Speaking from ITB Berlin, SETE President Andreas Andreadis said that, with the necessary support, Greece would this year surpass the 23.5 million visitors welcomed in 2015.
“We are anticipating that tourism will, once again, contribute decisively to the Greek economy in 2016,” said Andreadis.
In 2015, the number of visitors from Germany specifically rose by 14.3 percent compared to 2014, to reach 2.8 million, while the overall rise in German visitors to Greece since 2010 has been 38 percent. Last year, German visitors contributed 2.26 billion euros to the Greek economy, according to the Bank of Greece.
ITB brings refugee crisis in the spotlight
The ITB Berlin cast the spotlight on one of the most controversial issues impacting the industry right now: the refugee crisis.
This year, a number of discussions, round-tables and lectures at the ITB Berlin Convention examined the various aspects of the refugee crisis. Discussions focused on Greece, as well as Jordan, Turkey and Italy, and how the massive refugee influx has posed major challenges for tourism destinations there.
Although questions involving Greece and the refugee crisis on behalf of international tour operators were many, Greek tourism professionals and regional authorities were optimistic regarding their business meetings at the trade show.
Following are statements made by Greek tourism figures and regional authorities on the issue. It is noted that the comments were made before the EU-Turkey agreement on the refugee crisis took place in Brussels.
Andreas Andreadis, Greek Tourism Confederation (SETE) President – “Specific destinations that have been hit by the refugee influx will record a significant decline in arrivals this year.”
George Hadjimarkos, South Aegean Region Governor – “The European Union’s extremely slow reflexes over the refugee crisis have strained its cohesion as well as the communication between all member countries… (in regards to the impact on tourism) This year the South Aegean Region is embarking on an aggressive tourism promotion. Playing ‘defense’ is not for us and neither is any other position aside from ‘first place’. We aim to be champions in tourism.”
George Kiritsis, Kos Mayor – “I hope the agreement goes through and that Turkey will come to understand that it is the only one that can solve the problem… Europe must perceive that the situation is not easy to be managed by Greece alone and that Greece is not the problem.”
Nikolaos Katrakazos, Deputy Regional Governor of Samos (also represented Lesvos and Chios at ITB) – “The refugee crisis suddenly affected all of our 10 islands — mainly Lesvos, Samos and Chios — on all levels… So far bookings to the (North Aegean) islands are significantly reduced, compared to the same period last year and for some islands the decline is quite large. The reduction from some markets is as high as 65-70 percent…”
Elias Sifakis, Kos Deputy Mayor of Tourism Development & Agriculture – “Kos has nothing to do with the negative images shown last summer… I don’t expect our island to see any significant profit this year but I do expect this season to wipe out the losses of the past months.”
Konstantina Svynou, Hoteliers Association of Kos President – “Our bookings were down from all markets due to the poor management of the refugee crisis in 2015 and the images of the island that travelled throughout Europe. But the problem took us by surprise and caught us unprepared. But now we are ready and want everyone to know that it is ‘business as usual’ here.”
Aristotelis Thomopoulos, Thessaloniki Hotels Association President – “We are receiving positive messages for all Greek destinations, but on the other hand there is a pervasive concern about what is happening and evolving around us in regards to the refugee crisis and the general crisis in the Middle East… An agreement between Turkey and the European Union to curb the refugee crisis would have a positive effect on bookings to Greek destinations.”
Grigoris Tasios, Halkidiki Tourism Organization & Halkidiki Hotel Association President – “The Greek people have shown tremendous generosity towards the refugees arriving in Greece but in reality we can not handle these big flows… The management of the refugee crisis in the coming months will determine if Greece will see an increase in tourism arrivals, as the country must first maintain its reputation as a safe and hospitable destination.”
George Angelis, Athens Convention & Visitors Bureau (ACVB) press officer –
“It’s business as usual for Athens at ITB…We have not seen or heard anything that should cause some concern. On the contrary, we see that there is currently a healthy demand for Athens from the German market, particularly for city break and leisure tourism.”
GNTO @ ITB Berlin 2015
The Greek National Tourism Organization (GNTO) took part in the exhibition with its own stand, which hosted a total of 65 exhibitors including the country’s regions, hotels, travel agencies and tour operators.
As it took place for the 50th time, the ITB Berlin saw some 10,000 exhibiting companies from 187 countries and regions.
During ITB, the German office of the GNTO hosted an event with Thomas Cook and Condor which gave Greek exhibitors the opportunity to present their destination to 40 bloggers and introduce their comparative advantages.
Furthermore, travel professionals and visitors at the Greek stand had the opportunity to sample the country’s gastronomy and regional products through a series of cooking shows of top Greek chefs.
Various prize draws also took place at the stand and lucky participants won prizes offered by Greek exhibitors.
B2B meetings @ ITB 2016
Exhibitors/Companies @ ITB 2016 – Impressions
Argo Travel – “This is our debut as exhibitors at ITB and the experience is quite a positive one since it is a meeting point for all markets. We are receiving very optimistic messages… The ITB trade show is a great opportunity to meet up with our partners that we don’t see during the year and — of course — an excellent opportunity to come in contact with potential customers from new and emerging markets.” – Stratis Voursoukis, Group Director of Sales and Marketing
Aquila Hotels – “We are seeing one of the best performances of the German market at our hotels this year. I believe 2016 will be a very good year in terms of German travellers coming to Greece, that is if something does not happen to overturn this.” – Eftychis Petrakis, Yield & Revenue Μanager
Versus Travel – “From our meetings, I noticed a strong interest for travel to Greece this year although some professionals did express concerns regarding the refugee crisis. Overall I think it will be a good season, at least for the time being if everything runs smoothly.” – Thomas Theodorou, Contracting Director
Meli Tours – “Everyone has expressed concern about the refugees in Greece. However, the German public must be informed that there are refugees and migrants in certain parts of Greece and not everywhere in the country… Greece needs to work more on promoting its image abroad… I must say that the fact that all of us Greeks are here, working together, to strengthen ties with the German market means a lot.” – Alexandros Melikokis, Corporate Services Manager
Minoan Lines – “The professionals at ITB have shown quite positive messages for our company. This year we noticed a positive trend for our product, which is transporting passengers from Europe and Greece… I strongly believe that — unless other factors affect our market — this will be a good year for us… On the refugee crisis, I believe that it has affected the whole tourism industry, including Greece, but to a lesser degree than other countries in Europe.” – Lefteris Iliadis, Head of sales Europe II
INOVA – “Our impressions from this year’s ITb are very positive. We received very positive messages from the German market for the hotels we represent… For us, the refugee crisis was not a problem. However, due to the tragic events in November we noticed a very large decline — almost 50 percent — in bookings from traditional markets such as England, France and Germany… However, as of January, our bookings have returned to normal.” – Stefanos Iliadis, Contracts & Revenue Manager
Filos Travel – “We noticed high interest from other countries at this year’s ITB… They were interested in our product which includes the destinations in Northern Greece, such as Halkidiki, Thasos, Pieria.” – Chris Kalafatis, Chairman & CEO
Celestyal Cruises – “The German market is giving us a positive feeling. Surely bookings for cruise travel are lagging from Germany and all markets due to the negative publicity on the refugee issue. At the moment we have a 15 to 20 percent decline in bookings from the German market, but we believe that this will change eventually because 2016 is developing into a ‘late booking’ year… We haven’t changed any of our itineraries due to the refugee issue. Which ever islands we travelled to before, we travel to now.” – Froso Zaroulea, Director of Public Relations
Exhibitors/Destinations @ ITB 2016 – Impressions
Rhodes – “The German market has always been a leading market for the Dodecanese islands. Here at ITB I am seeing many successful meetings between Greek hoteliers and German tour operators. This is an automatic incentive for other countries, such as the Netherlands, Belgium and Poland. If these markets see that Germany is a frequent customer to our islands, then they follow. I believe that we will have a good season this year.” – Rhodes Mayor Fotis Chatzidiakos
Peloponnese – “We are receiving very positive messages from German professionals. There are always questions from Germany regarding the broader political life in Greece, but I think the Peloponnese Region can overcome any obstacles created by politics. At least in regards to tourism.” – Yiorgos Petritsis, Peloponnese Region, Tourism Advisor
Attica – “We are receiving positive messages from the German market. The Germans will come to Athens, to Attica and the (Argosaronic) islands… Here at ITB we aim to promote the Attica Region as a ‘short break’ destination, a step further than a ‘city break’ destination, in an attempt to boost the overnight stays of visitors… We have destinations, sites and products that can easily fill a five-day vacation of a tourist.” – Eleni Dimopoulou, Executive Regional Councillor for tourism promotion of the Region of Attica
Andros – “After keeping a low profile in regards to its tourism offerings, Andros has now embarked on a promotional strategy which focuses on its main product: its hiking trails… Here at ITB we are promoting our nature, our culture and our trails.” – Eleni Politou, Municipal Councilor of Andros for tourism and development
Epirus – “The German market has always been a market that we want to attract… Here at ITB we are promoting that Epirus is ‘Greece for all seasons’. This is exactly what visitors will find once they visit. Epirus is for all the seasons of the year and always maintains its quality and very warm hospitality.” – Ilias Gartzonikas, Region of Epirus, Department of Tourism
Following are a number of Greek exhibitors (companies, tourism bodies, regions) that took part in this year’s ITB expo.
ITB Berlin 2016 – Moments
The next ITB Berlin will take place March 8 to 12, 2017.