[Diplomatic Courier:] Tourism has been booming in Greece recently. What do you think has been driving the industry?
[Olga Kefalogianni:] Thank you very much for the interview. The truth is that 2013 is a comeback year for Greece in terms of tourism. We’ve been welcoming millions of people to our country and I think that this will be mainly attributed to the stability and the change of the image of Greece abroad. I believe there were a lot of misperceptions about our country. But this year people felt much more comfortable traveling to Greece, which as a destination has always been a very popular place for visitors. We’re looking forward to welcoming even more people to our country, because I feel that whoever comes to Greece, feels that famous Greek hospitality is always there.
[DC:] Absolutely. And you mentioned some of the misconceptions—what do you think are some of the biggest misconceptions that foreigners sometimes have about Greece?
[OK:] Well the truth is that we have been having a lot of negative publicity lately because of the economic crisis and because of demonstrations, especially in Athens that actually deterred visitors from coming to our country. The truth is that Greece was always and remains a very safe and very welcoming destination, and I think this is one of the main messages we want to convey to everyone.
[DC:] How can tourism help bring economic and political stability to Greece?
[OK:] Well the truth is that tourism contributes almost 18 percent of Greece’s GDP—so you can really understand that in times of economic crisis, both the income from tourism but also the job creation from tourism is really helping the economy.
[DC:] From a tourism perspective, how would you characterize Greece’s relationship with Turkey?
[OK:] Greece is a country that has been around for so many years as a tourist destination. We have been having visitors since the 1930s coming to Greece especially for the cultural heritage. And I think this is actually one of the main reasons why people keep coming to Greece and really enjoy being in a country which is not only beautiful and has the famous islands, but also wherever you go we have cultural heritage, monuments, sites, museums. At the same time, of course we have so many new countries in the region which have been developing in terms of tourism lately—Turkey is one of these countries. We are actually working together with Turkey because we believe that we can offer joint packages for people who come from far away destinations.
[DC:] Looking forward, what are your three biggest priorities for the next year?
[OK:] Well, the truth is we really want to focus on our traditional source markets in terms of tourism. The United States has always been a very big source market for Greek tourism. We have had a decline in the past years—this year, 2013, we actually reversed this trend. But we are really focusing on this market. We are going to have a campaign focused on the American consumer. We really want Americans to come back to Greece for all of the reasons why they have been coming to Greece for all these years: for the culture, for the food, for the Greek islands, and I think that one will find that Greece is not a destination that you can only visit once. There are so many different aspects about Greece, one can really experience totally different things every time they are in our country.