Greece is currently going through troubling times. Yet, with tourism being a pillar of stability for the county’s economy, the nation ventures forth with pride and true Greek hospitality, as Eleni Henderson discovers.
As we enter into the booming summer season, one destination stands as a beacon; other locales within its surrounding region crave for its performance. Greece, the country that has historically been one of the most sought-after destinations to which international travellers are attracted to for their summer vacations, has, in fact, sustained this interest, being one of the most popular searches in the online travel world.
The statistics speak for themselves. In 2011, Greece witnessed 16.5 million visitors arrive to its shores, which marked a 10 per cent increase from the figures of 2010. From this, $13.5 billion went directly into the Greek economy, making the direct and indirect contribution from the tourism industry in Greece $46 billion.
Taking on the crisis
Despite this strong performance in the travel industry, Greece has, in recent months, made the headlines for other reasons. With reports about the economic conditions within the country and its impact on European markets, and the effect that this has had on its reputation, Greece’s tourism industry is pulling out all the stops to try to forge ahead. A number of measures, including the reduction of VAT and airport taxes, have been implemented in order to combat the crisis, and a number of hotels have dropped their rates in order to tempt visitors.
Speaking about the current economic crisis, and the impact this has had on the tourism industry, was manager, St. Nicolas Bay Resort Hotel & Villas, Costas Zarbalas, who told TTG: “There is no doubt that the negative reports on Greece was, and are still, a problem. But we are working very hard to send a message to all markets to visit Greece this summer and to showcase the excellent value for money in an absolute safe holiday environment in our country. In addition, we have increased our marketing and advertising budget as much as possible.”
From a TATO perspective, Greece is still a lucrative offering to market to customers, especially towards the package seekers and luxury market. Although some travellers might be apprehensive to travel to Athens, the Greek islands are still a hot-spot and attractive destination.
“Greece is, deservedly, very popular amongst our travel partners and our guests.”
The challenge that the hospitality industry as a whole has had to face is the realigning of their marketing strategies to combat the negative impact the economic crisis poses to the tourism industry within the country, and to showcase the destination as one that is safe to visit.
Vice president, sales and marketing, Santikos Hotels, Vicky Santikos spoke to TTG about the property’s – and Greece’s as a whole – change of attitude: “The current economic crisis is quite challenging for the Greek hospitality industry, and for the Mediterranean in general. As a result of this, for the last two years we have been offering flexibility and variety in accommodation, as well as upgrading and adding value to our services and packages.
“We are watching developments closely, but are still committed to our renovations and reinvesting in our properties. Greece is, deservedly, very popular amongst our travel partners and our guests as they are intelligent enough to realise that pictures of riots on their television screens are far removed from the resorts in which we operate,” added Santikos.
Despite this crisis, hoteliers and internationally branded hotels are still showing their belief in Greece, with developments and long-term plans announced.
One such brand is Starwood Hotels & Resorts, who has announced that its Luxury Collection of Hotels & Resorts has released the ‘Greece Destination Guide’. Greece is, in fact, the brand’s third-largest market following the USA and India, and is one in which the brand has a belief in.
“Greece remains one of the world’s most mesmerising destinations, and we are thrilled to share this guide with our guests who we know have an insatiable appetite to travel, explore and discover,” said global brand leader, St. Regis and The Luxury Collection Hotels & Resorts, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Paul James.
“That Greece is our third largest market globally is a clear indication that the country's rich culture, distinctive heritage and indigenous treasures make it a 'must' for the most discerning travellers.”
It is these discerning travellers that still crave for an experience such as Greece, with its rich archaeological history, culture and diverse offerings.
The MENA market is a lucrative one for the Greek tourism industry and poses true potential for the hospitality sector, which is already receiving interest from the region.
This is highlighted by secretary general, Greek National Tourism Organisation (GNTO), George Koletsos, who said: “Greece has so many choices for luxury, family holidays, and others, while at the same time stands as a unique and safe destination. Travellers from the Middle East demand a high level of service, and with this in mind, all visitors are our guests received with generosity, as our emphasis placed on hospitality is closely connected to the importance of building relationships.”
It is these relationships which hoteliers within Greece are hoping to capitalise and build upon, as Zarbalas highlighted: “The Middle East market has a lot of importance to us since we have many common points with the people in these countries. We share a lot of common culture and history with the Middle East. Now that flight connections to Greece are better, we hope to increase our share and welcome more guests from this region in the future.”
One way in which this is occurring is through the increase in special packages that travel agents and tour operators are being offered, covering a variety of experiences that will tempt the interests of travellers.
“Middle East travel agents and tour operators have the unique opportunity to sell Greece this summer with extremely good value packages as an excellent introduction to the destination,” explained Zarbalas.
“Greece offers a great variety of holidays for all people, from young students, couples and families, to super high-end clients of the luxury market. A great mixture of holiday interests with unique archaeological and historical monuments and museums, hundreds of islands, cruises, unspoilt beaches and good, smiling people to welcome you and show you their appreciation for choosing Greece this summer.”
Adding on to Greece’s hospitality fame was Santikos, who informed TTG: “The Middle East has been an important market for us for the past five years. Our guests from this region really appreciate and enjoy the culture, history and tradition which make up the Greek lifestyle.”
And thus, with hospitality and a warm welcome being a core to the product that is Greece, the GNTO is currently marketing Greece as a diverse destination that will tap into the interests of the international visitor.
Explaining further, Koletsos highlighted: “Greece offers differentiated ‘experience’ holidays, enabling visitors to immerse themselves in a number of different adventures. Alternative tourism options, such as religious or agricultural tourism, land and sea activities, including golf and scuba diving, as well as exploring Greek cuisine, are just some of the choices that define our country as a diverse tourist destination.”
Being able to communicate the diversity of the destination would appear to be quite a large task, yet GNTO is trying to cover all areas. The strategy that the GNTO is implementing fits well within the current trend of social media marketing, which is a critical tool; attracting a wider, more significant range of people.
“We have chosen to invest our funds to target communication platforms with immediate and long reaching results,” explained Koletsos. “We are moving forward and creating synergies and engage in smart and consistent campaigns, placing emphasis on the promotion of Greece online and a more targeted provision of information. In an effort to further maximise the promotion of Greece abroad, while showcasing the country’s innumerable assets, collaboration has been forged between public and private sectors. For example, airline partnerships, vital to the success of a destination; we work closely with airlines and carry out joint promotions, marketing and tactical campaigns, and implement memorandums of understanding with international airlines.”