Elena Rapti: Greek Diaspora and all-year-round tourism is a priority for Tourism Deputy Minister

Championing Diaspora engagement: Elena Rapti's vision for Greek tourism

Elena Rapti, Deputy Minister of Tourism, is a Thessaloniki native who entered the political arena as a local government councillor in 1998 and evolved through multiple re-elections and pivotal roles within New Democracy. She advocates for all-year-round tourism and sees the Greek Diaspora as key.

As a Member of Parliament for Thessaloniki, Rapti was in the Council of Europe, where she championed social causes and was appointed head of national initiatives for child protection.

In June 2023, she was appointed Deputy Minister of Tourism in the New Democracy government of Greece, actively working to attract members of the Greek Diaspora to vacation in Greece.

Rapti said she recognises their role as ambassadors of the country in their countries of residence.

“This effort is primarily aimed at fostering and preserving their connection with the homeland, considering the Greek diaspora an integral part of the broader Greek identity,” she told Neos Kosmos.

“Greek Diaspora plays a significant role as an advocate for Greece. They promote Greece as a tourist destination to their acquaintances and friends, encouraging them to visit and highlight the country’s comparative advantages,” Rapti said.

Bumper tourism season for Greece

Greek tourism revenue for 2023 tops may top all previous records, surpassing the performance 2019, which has been the benchmark year in tourism.

According to data from the Bank of Greece, in the period January-August 2023, travel receipts increased by 15.3 per cent compared to the same period in 2022 of €12.749 billion, $AU20.95 billion, reaching €14.663 billion, $AU24 billion. Compared to the first eight months of 2019, which was at €13.242 billion, $AU21.7 billion, there was an increase of 10.7 per cent.

This is an increase of €1.421 billion, $AU2.34 billion, compared to the corresponding period of 2019 and €1.914 billion $AU3.15 billion compared to 2022.

During the January-August 2023 period, there were 17.4 million international air arrivals, surpassing the levels of January-August 2022, showing an increase of +12.4 per cent / +1.9 million arrivals. An increase of 10.8 per cent is also noted compared to the same period in 2019 (15.7 million).

Rapti said that the success of tourism is the “result of hard work, targeted strategic planning, quick reflexes, and excellent cooperation among members of the tourism industry.”

“In a challenging global tourism year, Greek tourism has demonstrated great resilience in the face of challenges posed by climate change and major external crises in our broader neighbourhood,” Rapti told Neos Kosmos.

Winter in Greece is a magical period. Photo: Depositphotos/Tania Koleska

“Despite the successes, we do not rest. Our goal is not to chase quantitative records every year but to set the foundation for sustainable tourism development in our new strategy for the future of Greek tourism, aligning with the globally pursued sustainability framework.”

Australians and others increasingly choose to visit Greece in September and October, outside the high-summer months of July and August.

“The extension of the tourist season is now a reality for Greece, with the market recording an increase in visitors in various regions during the current month,” the deputy minister said. Surveys of recent years indicate that an increasing number of visitors prefer to travel during periods other than the peak tourism season.

Rapti said a “sustainable approach to tourism development represents a significant opportunity.”

“The dispersion of visitors throughout the year across the country can improve their environmental footprint, preserve natural resources, enhance the benefits of tourism for locals, and safeguard our culture and heritage simultaneously,” she said.

She said that Greece’s “mild climate beyond the summer months” is a significant advantage for the “temporal distribution of tourist flows.”

“Our country can welcome visitors 365 days a year, offering them equally enjoyable vacation options.”

Year-round visitors through thematic tourism

Tourism is associated with activities and events beyond the typical summer season, which is what the tourism deputy minister and her department focus on.

“Activities and events ensure targeted focus on the unique interests of each traveller and sustainability for local communities.

“These tourists are closely connected to local identity, history, and geography,” she told Neos Kosmos.

She added that in Greece, there is interest in sectors where “we have a competitive advantage, which until now has not been fully utilised.” “Examples include diving and fishing tourism, mountain tourism, health and wellness tourism, pilgrimage tourism, wine tourism, and of course, gastronomic tourism and agritourism, all of which the government supports through the Recovery Fund and a series of other actions,” Rapti said.

Greek Diaspora stay longer and spend more

Rapti said, “Greek Diaspora holds a unique position among foreign visitors.”

“Attracting Diaspora to Greece is our focus, primarily to maintain their connection with the homeland, as the Greek diaspora is a vital part of the indivisible Greek community.

“Diaspora, driven by their love for the homeland, serve as ambassadors for Greece in their countries of residence,” Rapti said.

“The role of the diaspora is crucial for introducing the global community to their homeland, Greece.”

Greeks enhance tourism development by staying in the homeland compared to other tourists, boosting the local economy by choosing local businesses for goods and services, said Rapti.

“The Diaspora effectively support the local economy as they choose to visit local restaurants and shops. They mitigate tourism seasonality by visiting Greece in the summer and other times of the year.

“You [Greek Australians] come for Christmas, Easter, and any other time in autumn, winter, or spring to see your loved ones or honour your ancestors,” Rapti said.

“On the one hand, you visit places where your roots are, and on the other, you choose to explore and discover even more destinations to experience unique moments in the homeland you love so much.”

Thessaloniki, Greece – Crowds during the “Day of Colours” annual event – the sort of event that the minister believes augments all-year-round tourism. Photo: Depositphoto/vverve

Protecting children

As part of her other work, Rapti is dedicated to the prevention and addressing of child abuse; in the Parliamentary Network of the Council of Europe, she was coordinator of the pan-European campaign “One in Five” in Greece in 2013, as one in five children in Europe falls victim to some form of sexual abuse. In Greece, the rate is 16 per cent.

“Since then, I have continuously worked on preventing child abuse. In these ten years as Coordinator of the “One in Five” Campaign of the Council of Europe in Greece, we have carried out over 900 awareness actions for children and parents across the country using the campaign’s informational tools,” Rapti said.

Her collaboration with the Council of Europe led to the drafting of the first National Action Plan for the Protection of Children from Sexual Abuse and Exploitation, with the participation of 11 ministries across the Greek government.

“I have the honour of being appointed the National Coordinator for the Prevention and Addressing of Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation, under which I monitor and facilitate the implementation of the Action Plan.

“The Plan falls under the Minister of State, is being implemented smoothly, and particular emphasis is placed on significant reforms that are planned to change the terms of prevention and management of incidents of child sexual abuse for a world safer for children.