Greece eager to host Chinese travelers again: Tourism minister

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Greece is ready to welcome back Chinese travelers, after China's COVID-19 reopening, Greek Tourism Minister Vassilis Kikilias told Xinhua in a recent interview.

"We are ready to greet our Chinese friends, travelers and tourists, in this new touristic season," he said in Athens on Thursday.

The outbreak of the pandemic put the brakes on an impressive increase in Chinese arrivals in Greece in recent years.

In 2011, just 70,373 Chinese tourists visited Greece, according to official data from Athens International Airport (AIA). However, following the launch of the first direct flight between Athens and Beijing in 2019, this number reached 217,600.

On Dec. 22, 2022, a second direct flight was launched by Air China between Athens and Shanghai, which is expected to further boost arrivals.

"For us, China and the Chinese market are very important in terms of tourism, but also culture, and we are very happy to have top-shelf relationships with the Chinese people," Kikilias said.

The return of Chinese travelers to Greece will boost the Greek tourism industry's performance in the wake of the adversities of recent years, he added.

Greece had an exceptional touristic season in 2022, and this trend is likely to continue in 2023, the minister said. An essential part of that equation is the Chinese market, he added.

The Chinese hold a special place in the hearts of Greek people, and play an important role for Greek tourism stakeholders due to their unique characteristics compared to other visitors. They tend to travel off-season, and appreciate culture, Kikilias said.

"They're deeply involved in finding out about our culture and our civilization, since in both countries culture and civilization go many centuries back," he said.

With tourism accounting for about 25 percent of Greece's gross domestic product (GDP), Greece values Sino-Greek cooperation in the tourism sector highly.

In March 2022, Kikilias and China's Ambassador to Greece Xiao Junzheng signed the Joint Action Program 2022-2024 to strengthen cooperation on tourism in the coming years.

"Being able to connect again gives us bigger opportunities to be able to push forward on our joint actions," Kikilias said.

"We cherish the (Chinese) people and of course we're happy to see joint actions in terms of culture, in terms of sports, in terms of commerce and of course in terms of tourism," he said.

On the occasion of the Chinese Spring Festival, the Greek official sent warm wishes to the Chinese people.

"We are very eager and happy to host them in Greece," he added. 

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