Tourism Minister Elena Kountoura is working to ensure cruise lines see her country as safe, welcoming and responsive.
'Tourism is a priority for our government and the cruise industry is a priority for our ministry,' Kountoura said at Seatrade Cruise Global this week, where she met with cruise line leaders and addressed the 'Future of Cruising in Europe' session.
'Greece is a very safe, secure and friendly destination. We offer great experiences and lines can be very profitable [operating there],' Kountoura told executives.
'I am very impressed by the minister and her team's grasp of the industry and their offer to assist us in growing our mutual business,' said Silversea Cruises' Mark Conroy, managing director, the Americas.
'Crystal Cruises and Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises currently go to Greece, and our AirCruises will visit Greece in the future as well,' said Crystal's Edie Rodriguez, chairman, ceo and president. 'Elena Kountoura and her team are a delight to work with.'
More than 20 ports in Greece can receive cruise ships, and they offer a vast variety of experiences. As Kountoura put it: 'We spoil you with choice.'
Cruising figures in her strategy to grow overall tourism, which targets five pillars: new destinations, extending the season, thematic tourism, new markets and investment.
When it comes to investment, EC funding to increase competitiveness is going toward upgrading infrastructure, supporting small and medium-sized entrepreneurs, and seeding new tourism businesses, according to George Tziallas, secretary general for tourism policy and development in the Ministry of Tourism. Funding also fosters new IT systems and tools such as smartphone apps and social media campaigns.
Plus, thanks to EC support, for the first time Greece is cooperating with neighbors like Cyprus, Italy and Bulgaria to develop regional tourism.
As far as extending the season, Kountoura's 'dream is to make Greece a destination 365 days a year.' Winters are sunny and mild, she said, and there's plenty to do, including biking, golf and other active pursuits.
Kountoura wants visitors to discover places Greeks love like the islands of Naxos, Paros, Patmos and Milos—to name a few, as well as Volos and Thessaloniki on the mainland and other spots in northern Greece that offer mountains, kayaking, extreme sports, waterfalls, lakes, thermal springs and monasteries.
Theme travel can be built around gastronomy, diving, hiking, sports tourism (run the original marathon in Athens), astronomy and even medicine (Kos was the birthplace of Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine).
Efforts are going into attracting new markets like China, India, South Korea and the Middle East, while also reinforcing traditional markets.
When it comes to the cruise sector in particular, the ministries of travel, transport and shipping are working together on a national committee of 28 public and private sector members, including such cruise veterans as Andreas Stylianopoulos, ceo, Navigator Travel & Tourist Services.
The group addresses issues related to infrastructure, promotions, safety, services and helping operators cut through red tape.
The European lines are sticking with Greece, but Kountoura wants US operators to know the Port of Piraeus has been upgraded, air connections are improving (Emirates just inaugurated daily New York-Dubai service via Athens) and, most of all, 'We are your partners. We are your friends.'
Back home, besides the big policy matters, the minister pays attention to the details. She has been known to go to Piraeus on cruise ship days to talk with port workers and passengers. Sometimes she can facilitate immediate solutions.
'The small things make a big difference,' she said.