Greek tourism minister: Priorities include education upgrade, diving parks, rules for Airbnb rentals
Changing diving tourism regulations, improving tourism education, establishing a new regulatory framework for short-term rentals and paving the way for the launch of a Tourism Satellite Account (TSA) system are the current focus areas of the Greek Tourism Ministry.
Speaking to the media on Thursday, Greece’s Tourism Minister Harry Theoharis and Deputy Minister Manos Konsolas listed the current areas of focus in the government’s aim to upgrade Greece’s tourism product to improve the visitor experience, attract investments and boost the country’s competitiveness.
The minister began his briefing by saying that an increase in tourism revenue is expected this year compared to 2018, despite a “sluggish” start.
According to the minister, the expected revenue growth is due to the increase in the per capita spending of foreign visitors. Regarding arrivals, he said expectations are positive due to the late booking trend recorded in August and September.
“We must not only focus on the country’s arrival numbers,” Minister Theoharis said, underlining that the strive for their continuous growth actually distracts from other efforts aimed at upgrading the country’s tourism product itself, which is the real challenge.
“In the end it (arrivals) just remains a number… It is more difficult to boost the product’s quality to improve the experience of the tourists that arrive,” he said, underlining the ministry’s goal to follow a comprehensive tourism strategy.
At this point the minister underlined the importance of having precise tourism data in order to make strategic plans. He referred to the country’s lack of a Tourism Satellite Account (TSA) system that would give a more comprehensive picture of Greece’s tourists, the country’s arrivals and revenue. Through TSAs it can be known what is allocated to the domestic economy from what tourists (inbound or domestic) spend in Greece.
“It is unthinkable that the sector has been discussing setting up a tourism satellite account for the past 15 years and Greece still is missing one,” he said.
The minister then announced that a memorandum of cooperation is intended to be signed between the ministry and the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT) in order to finally launch a TSA and have an exact picture of Greece’s tourism product, which would benefit the country’s overall tourism strategy.
Attracting investments for diving parks
Among the ministry’s most recent efforts to upgrade the Greek tourism product are changes that have been made to the institutional framework that concerns diving tourism in Greece in order to attract investments for the creation of diving parks throughout the country.
“This tourism form has many fans but right now there are many restrictions that undermine its development,” the minister said, adding that the specific form of tourism, once developed, should prove very beneficial to local communities as it also addresses seasonality, considering that diving can take place all year around.
Focus on tourism education
The ministry is also looking to improve tourism education in Greece with a focus on upgrading the level of studies covering hospitality. The Deputy Tourism Minister Manos Konsolas announced that a bill is being drafted for this purpose while the ministry is also planning to sign memorandums of cooperation with relevant universities that offer tourism studies.
Konsolas also announced that the Thessaloniki Tourist Guide School is expected to open in the near future while the ministry is also paving the way for three more tourist guide schools to open on Rhodes, Crete and Corfu.
Rules planned for Airbnb rentals
When asked about the ministry’s plans for the short-term rental market in Greece, Minister Theoharis clarified that the specific market is part of the country’s tourism product and therefore must be regulated.
The minister said that a whole new plan would be drawn up – one that will include safety and hygiene rules in the accommodation offered to visitors. He also added that the stayover tax, currently charged exclusively to hotel visitors, may possibly be imposed on the guests of short-term rentals.
Minister Theoharis also commented on the post-Brexit travel of British holidaymakers to Greece, underlining that the ministry is “closely watching developments”.
“We will have a more clear picture during the World Travel Market in London (November 4-6),” the minister said, adding that arrivals from the UK this season were on a satisfying level.
Moreover, referring to the country’s competitiveness as a destination, Deputy Minister Konsolas said that the Greek tourism product is in fact “not competitive” due to high taxes.
According to Konsolas, the ministry is going ahead with actions to reduce taxes imposed on the sector, pave the way for a spatial plan for tourism, and reduce the country’s seasonality in order to enrich the country’s portfolio of new tourism products.
In addition, regarding the promotion of Greece and the country’s overall presence at major international travel events, the minister said that changes will be made most likely as of 2020.