It’s all Greek to me

By Ni Dandan Source:Global Times Published: 2015-12-6 18:28:01

While the small Greek isle of Santorini attracts hundreds of thousands of Chinese visitors every year, the Mediterranean country's largest island, Crete, is struggling to make the Chinese tourism market aware of its existence.

As such, tourism authorities from Crete recently arrived in Shanghai to share more knowledge about its tourism resources. "Although there has been continuous growth in the figure of Chinese visitors to Crete, the total number is still quite small," said Michalis Vamiedakis, Crete's Commissioner of Tourism.

"The Chinese market is very big in general. It has a strong middle class who are the major force of its tourism. Chinese people love and respect Greece because it is a country with a similarly ancient civilization and history like China," Vamiedakis told the Global Times.

Every year more than 100 million Chinese take outbound overseas trips, with 4 million of them choosing European countries as their destination. Last year alone, Greece attracted approximately 100,000 visitors from China, a year-on-year increase of 70 percent.

Compared with the total number of foreign visitors that Greece received for the same period, which stood at 24 million, this figure is not that significant. But Andreas Andreadis, president of the Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises, predicts that by 2021 Chinese visitors to Greece could reach 1 million.

Still in the depths of its recent debt crisis, Greece continues to struggle with a sluggish economy. But for all its financial woes the country saw its tourism industry unscathed. As a result, the country has now become even more reliant on its tourism sector, which currently accounts for 20 percent of its GDP, compared with the previous long-standing figure of 15 percent.

Even though Greece is keen on promoting its tourism sector, its capacity during peak travel months to handle multitudes of Chinese tourists has come into question. Many Chinese travel agencies have reported troubles in helping their guests secure hotel accommodations between April and October, which has had adverse effects and caused negative word of mouth.

Given that Chinese tourists tend to favor the popular Greek islands of Santorini and Milos, the commissioner said that one possible win-win solution is to divert tourist traffic from those islands to his. The Global Times sat down with Vamiedakis to further discuss this issue as well as what more Crete has to offer Chinese travelers.

GT: Why is Crete less well-known among Chinese tourists compared with the island of Santorini?

Vamiedakis: Santorini was one of the first Greek destinations to be officially promoted to the Chinese market. But Santorini has a limited capacity for tourists; it has very few hotels. And with the number of Chinese tourists growing, there are even less accommodations for them.

Crete, on the other hand, is one of the top destinations in the European tourism market. More than 3.5 million tourists from around Europe arrive in Crete every year. Most European tourists prefer to stay in Crete and then take one-day excursions to Santorini.

Crete is the biggest island in Greece. It has more history and culture, more museums and natural landscapes, a picturesque old city, massive entertainment and shopping possibilities and an excellent hotel infrastructure. One-third of all the five-star hotels in Greece are located in Crete!

GT: Compared with other European destinations offering rich history and culture or picturesque landscapes, what makes Crete so unique?

Vamiedakis: I would say the local life, which has maintained an unspoiled character. Visitors can really see the true face of the local people and our genuine hospitality. Visit any village in Crete and you will be welcomed there. This is quite difficult to experience anywhere else. Also, our consistent service standards. Even if you choose a two-star hotel in Crete, you will receive decent, clean accommodations and professional service.

GT: Will Crete ever consider a visa-free policy for Chinese tourists? And are direct flights between Crete and China a possibility in the future?

Vamiedakis: Since we are part of Schengen (an area comprising 26 European countries that has abolished passports or any border control), we must follow its travel regulations.

What we can offer is to stay in very close contact with our consulates and embassies across China to ensure a standardized visa process and that there are no application delays. In those smaller Chinese cities where there's no consulate, people can easily find travel agencies and visa services to Crete.

Right now there are only direct flights from China to Athens (the capital of Greece). But once we start seeing more interest in Crete among Chinese tourists, chartered flights can be opened.

Facts about Crete Island:

Area: 8,332 km²

Population: 621,340

Largest island in Greece (260 km from east to west), fifth largest island in the Mediterranean

Transportation: Crete has three airports and six seaports. There are numerous daily direct flights from Athens to Crete, and daily boat connections between Athens (Port of Piraeus) and other Greek islands.

Peak tourism season: April to October





With rich culture, history and beautiful scenery, the island of Crete is a top destination for European tourists. Photos: CFP

Posted in: Metro Shanghai

blog comments powered by Disqus