Greece was, as usual, one of the big names in the World Travel Market 2014 show at Excel. The press conference of Mrs Olga Kefalogianni, the Greek Minister of Tourism looked twice oversubscribed with people jostling in the aisles. Events started during the week before the WTM: a Cyclades cuisine dinner, a Greek alternative music show with popular singer Kostas Pliatsikas at the Forum in Kentish Town and an exhibition of Greek cooking at the Greek stand. So what is new?
There was only good news to be had. Firstly, it appears that – if you discount interest repayments – a small primary current account surplus is expected and economic recovery may well be sprouting, led by tourism receipts (11.5 billion euros). UK visitors were up 4.2% and the UK was the second most important European market after Germany,
Tourism was the big kickstarter of the Greek economy in 2013; with trouble brewing in Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia and a crisis in Cyprus, more than 17 million tourists travelled to Greece (2012: 15.5m). Some islands like Crete, Rhodes and Santorini saw explosive percentage increases.
Another positive aspect for 2014 is that the dream of an extended holiday season to turn the sudden summer influx to an all-year flow seems to be coming true. October is normally not a big tourist month, but Oct 2013 was the best ever October in Greek Tourism history.
Outside the WTM, the Greek PM made a promise in a TV interview that, by the end of 2014, there will be free wireless Internet in the whole country. Frankly, as anyone who’s been to Greece recently knows, this may already be in place and the government has nothing to do about it. Every small cafe, taverna, shop or even fast food outlet in Greece offers free wi-fi access to its customers. It seems to be a modern version of the old bazaar trick of “come to my shop and let me offer you a cup of coffee”.
The recent Olympic-Aegean merger, which surprised many EU-watchers, at least allows flights to more remote islands to be kept going and, from 2014, there will be a new factor to consider: approval for six seaplane hubs has been given the go-ahead with fares averaging 75 euros.
Maybe the best news for travellers to the Greek Islands (and us, poor guidebook writers) comes from the ferry companies. For the first time ever all ferry operators have agreed an advance timetable for 12 months. No more waiting until the month before your trip to find out which ship docks where and when!
Finally a new website, Discover Greece operated by Marketing Greece, a private consortium of Greek companies, will showcase all of Greece, act as a sales tool by combining products with booking engines and serve as a digital platform social media campaigns.
Roll on, 2014!