By Nikos Krinis
Tourism Minister Elena Kountoura shared the Greek experience in managing crises, during the International Travel Crisis Management Summit (ITCMS) that took place on Thursday at the Haberdashers’ Hall in London.
The ITCMS addressed the growing needs of an industry which has been subject to an increasing number of crises both natural and man-made and brought together leading figures from the global travel industry, along with officials, journalists, mayors, civil defense ministers, PR and insurance professionals, assistance and crisis management experts to share best practices, discuss emergent threats and post-event responses.
During her speech, Minister Kountoura spoke of the tourism ministry’s quick response to the capital controls imposed on Greece that occurred in the summer peak of the country’s tourism season in 2015 and which had followed a series of challenges such as two elections, a referendum and hard ongoing negotiations between the Greek government and international creditors.
Morover, Greek tourism was also up against the widely spread rumors and misconceptions about the Grexit possibility, along with the extensive negative publicity on the country’s image abroad. In addition, at the time there was also significant hesitation in bookings in Europe and a sharp fall in arrivals from source-markets such as Russia.
“It emerged as the most unexpected, unprecedented and critical situation our sector has witnessed so far”, Minister Kountoura stressed, adding that the ministry handled the crisis literally overnight.
“Our main concern being that not even one tourist would feel any sort of impact or worry, starting from the next morning”, she said.
According to Minister Kountoura, the ministry took immediate actions that night on three levels: political, operational and communicational.
Through coordinated efforts with the ministries of Finance and of Foreign Affairs and other governmental bodies and institutions, as well as the banks, the tourism ministry ensured travellers that the bank system, as of the next day, would run smoothly for foreign citizens and tourists would not feel to the least the effect of internal changes in money transfers and access to ATM’s.
Minister Kountoura said that the ministry worked on a 24-hour basis for the period of the three weeks that followed in collaboration with the 13 Regions of Greece, local authorities, tourism representatives and private sector.
“Our goal was to secure that the whole chain of tourism — hotel businesses, travel agencies, airlines — would continue to operate smoothly in their financial transactions and payments. We also worked to ensure efficiency in products, transportation and services, and focused on guaranteeing the high quality of our tourism services provided to our visitors”, she said.
On the communications level, the ministry’s strategy was to get the message out — through interviews, press releases, and cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affair offices, the Embassies and the Greek National Tourism Organization offices abroad — that there was “absolutely no disruption” for the millions of visitors that were on vacation in Greece or were planning to visit the country.
The ministry also launched an ad hoc last-minute campaign to increase bookings for August and September, aiming to prevent possible immediate cancellations as well as compensate for possible drop in arrivals during the month of July.
“By the end of the year, our tourism figures broke an all-time record: 26 million plus arrivals and 14,1 billion euros revenue. This outcome was beyond all expectations”, Minister Kountoura said, adding that the ministry is not resting, despite the positive turnout.
“We pursue solid and long-standing bilateral and multilateral strategic partnerships”, she said and underlined the need for all to work together to overcome common challenges.
“And this can be done through introducing a new culture of growing sensitivity and responsibility to the new reality the travel market and the destinations are facing. We need to be sensitive to the traveler’s needs and educate the workforce towards this direction, throughout the chain of tourism-related services.”
Concluding her speech, Minister Kountoura said that tourism can be a bridge for cooperation, friendship, stability and peace.
“It can also create new prospects for economic and social growth and prosperity across the world. To this end, we can all stand united”, she said.
The ITCMS was organised by Connecting Travel, a global travel and tourism business community for industry professionals.