Harry Theoharis
*Image Credit: CNN Greece

“This weekend we are restarting the Greek summer, Greek tourism. We are once again putting the country’s most important production machine ahead. We put an end to the anxiety of the 700 thousand employees in the tourism industry in a methodical way. We give practical and concrete answers to the anxiety of thousands of businesses and entrepreneurs. Most of all, however, we give back to millions of tourists the right to the Greek summer. The right to dream of a better life and the opportunity for all of us, foreigners and our compatriots to live this unique Greek experience,” Tourism Minister Harry Theoharis stated on Sunday, as reported by CNN Greece.

His comments were made during a press conference held at the island of Santorini, where he presented the domestic tourism voucher program for qualifying Greeks, an environment-friendly initiative at Santorini and the Visit Greece electronic application for mobile platforms.

Theoharis’ speech focused on the 30-million-euro-strong ‘Tourism For All’ voucher program, which concerns some 250,000 low-income Greek citizens who can enjoy up to a week’s subsidised holiday in many inland destinations.

The program aims to stimulate tourism for the benefit of businesses in the industry, said the minister, through the subsidised accommodation for a large number of guests, which is expected to boost “the liquidity of tourism companies with additional multiplier benefits for local economies,” he noted. One million stays are expected to be booked via this program.

The ‘Tourism For All’ program will run from July 15 to December 31 and can be applied for via TaxisNet, the government’s online tax registry.

Theoharis then presented the ‘Plastic-free Santorini’ campaign, which aims to move away from plastic and implement eco-friendly practices, with the support of the Tourism Ministry, the Thira Municipality, Lidl Hellas and the A.C. Laskaridis Charitable Foundation.

With a 700,000 euro support budget form Lidl Hellas, the campaign will run promos at key tourist points on the island and at Athens International Airport, whereas in its second phase – alongside Laskaridis Foundation – will promote educational programs at Santorini as well as direct interventions at beaches via a systematic and extensive action for the protection of coasts throughout Greece, as per the campaign’s broader scope.

The next initiative of the Tourism Ministry is Visit Greece, the Greek National Tourism Organization’s (GNTO) official application for portable electronic devices, with exclusive sponsorship by Eurobank and Mastercard, said Theoharis.

Key elements of the application are: the ability to create a personalised profile which in turn relays personalised push notifications to the user, the automatic detection of the user’s geographical location via satellite (the all-too familiar geo-location feature), proposals for points of hospitality, catering, attractions and local businesses.

Perhaps most importantly, another particularly useful feature of the Visit Greece app is that it is Covid-19 aware, as the user can be informed about everything that relates to Covid-19 local protective measures and health services, updated accordingly via the geo-location feature. It is also a multilingual application.

Referring to the reopening of tourism, Theoharis said that “nothing has been left to chance as the government’s absolute priority is health safety, because protecting the health and lives of tourists and workers is in our hands.”

“Let’s prove that Greece – while remaining the most attractive tourist destination in the Mediterranean – is also one of the safest countries in the world,” he stressed.

Closing his presentation, Theoharis noted: “As Minister of Tourism, but mainly as a Greek citizen, I feel very honoured and deeply moved to be part of this, I repeat, national effort. But I feel even more responsible for what we start today. It is truly a historic moment. From Santorini we are opening Greek tourism again, with absolute safety for tourists, employees, businessmen, for every person involved in the provision of hospitality services…. We could not today proceed to a new and critical beginning if the efforts, even the sacrifices, of all Greeks during the period of the escalation of the pandemic had not preceded it…. By safely opening Greek tourism, we confirm the greatness of the Greek soul. Adaptability and passion for life and creation. We are making the crisis an opportunity for rebirth. Because, in the end, it is not luck that we live in the best country in the world, nor is it a matter of luck that the Greeks managed to do better with the pandemic than most European countries and the whole planet. It is a privilege to be Greek. This is the biggest task and the most serious legacy for the future of all of us.”

On Saturday, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced that Greece is ready to welcome tourists this summer with priority to health safety.

“When the summer tourist season comes full circle,” said Mitsotakis, “we will be able to say that we did not just manage the first wave of the pandemic in an exemplary way, but that we also set the bar very high on how we can reopen tourism safely – above all else,” he exclaimed.

When asked if opening the country to visitors might jeopardise the government’s efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic, Mitsotakis said that “there is no risk-free approach…we are doing the best we can” and emphasised that the economy will operate under “very robust guidelines” enforcing social distancing and other measures, such as mandatory wearing of masks in transport as well as by all catering personnel.

“I believe the worst (of the pandemic) is over and I don’t think a full lockdown will be necessary…in case of a localised outbreak, we have the medical and civil protection infrastructure in place to tackle it safely and efficiently,” Mitsotakis said.