A change of guard in the Greek government may have opened new opportunities for tourism to Greece from Australia.

The appointment of former actress Angela Gerekou as the new president of the Greek National Tourism Organisation (GNTO-EOT) following the resignation of Charalambos Karimalis from the post on Thursday could mark a new period of growth for tourism from Greece to Australia.

Not wishing to miss this opportunity, Greek Community of Melbourne (GCM) President Bill Papastergiadis took time from his holiday in Greece for a meeting with the new Greek Tourism Minister Charis Theocharis shortly following the 7 July elections. The Greek Australian reiterated his offer to host a GNTO representative at a furnished office at the Greek Centre free of rent – an idea that was met with enthusiasm by Mr Theocharis just as it had been met with interest by former tourism minister Elena Kountoura when the idea was first presented by Mr Papastergiadis three years ago.

Despite interest, an official had not been forthcoming and the idea was put on the backburner.

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The new government, however, is looking at issues afresh and Mr Papastergiadis took the time to present the initiative again. “Tourism statistics provided by Greece have revealed that Australian tourists are the highest spenders per capita in Greece and, due to our distance, spend the longest time in the country globally,” Mr Papastergiadis told Neos Kosmos, while also pointing out the gains for year-round tourism as Australia has opposite seasons to Europe making it an ideal market for a winter influx to often-overlooked mainland destinations. “I believe we could build on the country’s tourism base and increase the potential of tourism from Australia to Greece.”

Market benefits from Greek tourism promotion

Greek Australian travel agents welcome the idea and speak of similar initiatives by other governments that have funnelled tourism away from Greece to their own destinations. For instance, Turkey already has multiple offices and Egyptian tourism offices working in Melbourne have helped boost traffic to their countries, but though Greece has GNTO offices around the globe there is no office in Australia where there is a large Greek population.

Melbourne-based Top Tours office manager Helen Leris said she works with “other tourism boards” and would welcome a similar Greek service. “I think it’s a great idea. My experience shows that such an official would help promote Greece as a destination and would get a lot of collateral,” she said.

“I work in Oakleigh, and a lot of Australian clientele walk in off the street asking for information. We run our own tours and share our knowledge of Greece but we’ve never had official Greek tourism support in our efforts as we have had from other countries, that offer us information, pamphlets, brochures, maps, even lists of golf courses.

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“I’d like to see something similar happen for Greece. A GNTO official would be able to put on travel shows, offer inhouse travel seminars and even promote overlooked mainland destinations beyond Mykonos and Santorini.”

Mr Papastergiadis said that the free office is ready, and all that Greece would be required to do would be to pay one GNTO staff member to act as a Greek facilitator with private sector tourism in Australia. “Without rent, costs would be minimal, but the returns would be multiple – far greater than the investment with millions of dollars funnelled to the strongest sector in the Greek economy,” Mr Papastergiadis envisioned.

“As Greek Australians, we are a proactive community and if we look at assisting Greece, we can assist them in this.”

Angela Gerekou is the new GNTO chief.

It is hoped that Ms Gerekou’s experience in and knowledge of issues related to tourism as former deputy minister for tourism under the PASOK administration (2009) and as former culture minister with ND (2014-2015) will help finally get the idea off the ground. Neos Kosmos approached Ms Gerekou, Mr Theocharis and Ms Kountoura and is looking forward to a response regarding the generous Greek Australian initiative.