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The campaign of improving the image of Greece should have begun long ago

22 March 2012 / 22:03:35  GRReporter
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Anastasia Balezdrova

A few days ago, three tourism associations, representatives of travel agencies and tour operators from the UK, sent an open letter to the Greek Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Culture and Tourism and the supervisory Troika. In it hey warned that unless action is taken to improve the image of Greece in the country, they will be forced to cut their bookings, because they will not be able to sell the packages.

The UK associations ABTA-The Travel Association, AITO-Association of Independent Tour Operators and FTO-Federation of Tour Operators are representatives of 844 tour operators and 3,547 travel agencies. Their letter indicates that the negative image of Greece in the UK market has led to a change in the preferred destinations for summer vacation by British tourists.

A day later, six German tour operators started their own campaign to improve the image of Greece in Germany with the main slogan "Only trust matters to true friends." The companies TUI, 1-2 Fly, Neckermann Reisen, ITS, Jahn Reisen and the British Thomas Cook, which cover two thirds of the total number of German tourists to Greece, said that the country remains one of the main tourist destinations for their customers.

The Hellenic Association of Travel and Tourism Agencies HATTA has joined the call of its counterparts from the UK. GRReporter asked its president George Telonis for a comment.

Mr. Telonis, your association has joined the call of the leading UK tour operators regarding the need to immediately improve the image of Greece in the UK. They argued that if this does not happen, they will be forced to cut their bookings. What is your comment?

It is difficult to cut a specific booking because it implies the loss of funds. But this is not the point. I think we should pay attention to the concerns expressed by the UK tour operators. They say Greece has a bad image in their country. A picture different from that which we, their associates in Greece, present is drawn there. The result is a cut of bookings. This is a problem.
On the other hand, six German tour operators have started their own campaign in support of the image of Greece. How would you comment on that?

German tour operators see too that a picture is presented in Germany that shows the presence of anti-German attitudes in Greece. This has to change and to present the real situation. We share their concern. We believe that it is not possible for one desultory event like the riots in central Athens on 12 February or the burning of a flag to reflect the attitude of the Greeks to the Germans, nor to reflect the image of Greece in the UK.

We fully support the open letter by our UK colleagues to Prime Minister Lucas Papademos, the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Culture and the supervisory Troika for granting funds in order to carry out targeted public awareness in key tourism markets such as the UK and Germany.

What is the share of tourists from these countries in Greek tourism?

I think it is over 25%. It is especially important to limit the possible decline because it will hardly be filled by other markets, no matter how much the inflow from them will increase.

What actions have been taken by your association to improve Greece's image abroad?

So far, we have held two forums with the colleagues from Germany. The third forum is to take place, probably on 2 April. In all cases, we are in constant contact with the associations uniting nearly 900 tour operators in the UK. Last year, we met with them and discussed the issues in this regard, because we have no time to do something permanent. We have to make efforts to improve the climate today, not to mention yesterday.

Experts believe that this year, Greek tourism will not be able to come close to last year's success. What is your comment?

These estimates are significant. But I will indicate the reasons and they are two. The first is that in December, January and until mid February, no advance bookings were made. It was logical given the instability and insecurity in Greece. This feeling was related to the fact that it was not clear what currency would be used in the country. After the completion of the PSI and the presence of stability and peace, if you wish, we are not observing a surge in bookings at the expected rate. Another reason is that the images of burned buildings in Athens, the occupied Acropolis and the slogans on it are not helping us. We have to overcome the impression these pictures are making, just because they are in isolation. If they were mass, we would not be able to do anything to change things.

So, yes, there might be a slight decline. We believe, however, that even now, we still have time to fill the gap opened by unmade bookings. On the other hand, an increase in the number of tourists from new markets such as Russia, Israel and Turkey is expected. Arrivals from these countries may help to get closer to last year's growth. We still have time, but it is getting shorter.  Each passing day, each booking not made in Greece is lost. It could possibly return here next year. This is disturbing.

We must all unite our efforts to change the image of Greece. Because it is quite different from what is portrayed abroad. Our product is wonderful; therefore, we are able to revive tourism. We must understand that the moment is crucial and that immediate actions are necessary.

Tags: EconomyTourismUK and German tour operatorsCampaign of improving the imageBookings
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