Israeli tourism to Greece surges, minister visits

Greek tourism minister on visit to Israel says there has been 'alot of cooperation' between the nations.

rhodes 311 (photo credit: Evey Ruskin and Dan Izenberg)
rhodes 311
(photo credit: Evey Ruskin and Dan Izenberg)
The number of Israelis visiting Greece grew from some 150,000 in 2010 to 400,000 last year, but to listen to Greece’s Tourism Minister Olga Kefalogianni is to believe this has more to do with Greece’s allures than to the Israeli-Turkish fracture that sent Israelis scrambling for cheap vacation alternatives nearby.
“The big increase came in 2010, and since then we have been having an increase in the number of visitors every year,” Kefalogianni said on Tuesday during a two-day visit to Israel. This was her first visit to the country.
That year, 2010, was when Greek-Israeli relations began to improve dramatically following a chance meeting in Moscow between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and then-Greek prime minister George Papandreou, and also was the year of the Mavi Marmara flotilla that sent Israeli-Turkish relations into a nosedive.
Kefalogianni, when asked to what she attributed the huge increase, did not voluntarily mention the Turkish element.
“The truth is that there has been a lot of cooperation [between Israel and Greece], both on the political level, but also on the business level,” she said.
“Politicians and governments always create the framework, then it’s up to the public sector to come in and do business.”
She said that Israeli tourism to Greece was also helped by Greece’s promotion of the country’s many Jewish heritage sites. “Jewish communities flourished in Greece, and you can see remnants of this presence in cities, first of all in Salonika, but also in other places, such as my place of origin in Crete.”
When asked directly to what degree the poor Israeli-Turkish relations were responsible for the uptick in Israeli visits to Greece, she replied that this was not a question to be addressed to the Greek side.
But, she added, “I understand from what I have been told that this was one of the reasons.”
Kefalogianni said that during a meeting with outgoing Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov she discussed ways to make the tourism relationship between the two countries “more strategic.”
Part of that strategic relationship, she said, was developing a tourism relationship that did not only focus on increasing visitors from one country to the other, but also on “how we can work together to attract visitors from third countries to visit both Greece and Israel.”
Kefalogianni characterized the Israeli tourist as “quite sophisticated, they know what they are looking for.”
She said Israelis, like Greeks, “enjoy life, and they find vacations abroad mean they want to explore the senses: experiencing taste, cuisine, music.”
The poor Greek economic situation has had a positive impact on tourism to Greece, because the country has become a good value for the money, she said. The “Arab Spring” has also led to an increase in tourism to Greece, which in 2012 received some 16 million tourists, since many people going to Egypt and Tunisia decided, because of the events in those countries, to go to Greece instead.
She dismissed the notion that the rise of the extreme right and anti-Semitic Golden Dawn party might make Israeli visitors feel unsafe or uncomfortable in her country.
“I am very positive that Athens, and Greece as a whole, is a very safe destination,” she said. “We have never had any incident, even with [the 2012 Golden Dawn] demonstrations that were much publicized, of any visitors being affected.”