Greece expects more investments in tourism in coming years: minister

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by Maria Spiliopoulou, Valentini Anagnostopoulou

ATHENS, Oct. 6 (Xinhua) -- Following the best year on record for Greek tourism in 2017, Greece is expecting more visitors as well as investments in the tourism industry in coming years, Greek Tourism Minister Elena Kountoura told Xinhua on Friday in Athens.

"2017 is the best year for Greek tourism... We expect that including passengers on cruise ships foreign arrivals this year will exceed 30 million," the official said.

In 2015, Greece had welcomed 26 million visitors and in 2016 around 28 million, she noted.

"We believe that in coming years we will see far better results in the tourism industry and relevant investments," Kountoura said, speaking on the sidelines of a press briefing on the plans of travel giant TUI Group to bring more travelers to the country and invest in various projects.

TUI CEO Friedrich Joussen said that the group which brought some 2.5 million visitors in Greece during the 2017 season, plans to offer new travel packages designed for outside the peak season, supporting Greek authorities to prolong the season.

TUI which operates 32 of its own hotels in Greece also plans to add ten new units to its portfolio, Joussen told the press conference.

On the agenda of discussions with the Greek government were also investments in infrastructure and ways to support other sectors of the Greek economy, such as agriculture, by promoting Greek products to TUI operated hotels, he said.

"We have managed to become a very attractive country for investments. Investments in the tourism sector during 2016 and 2017 have increased remarkably," Kountoura said.

In 2015, a total of 15 such investment proposals were submitted to Greek authorities, she said, while in 2016 the number skyrocketed to 162 proposals for projects and in the first half of 2017 another 80 plans.

The minister underlined that Greece focuses in particular on strengthening cooperation with China in the tourism sector.

"Thanks to the excellent bilateral ties and the Belt and Road initiative we are happy to say that in 2016 we welcomed more than 150,000 Chinese tourists and we believe that in 2017, in particular after the launch of the direct flights connecting Athens to Beijing (on Sept. 29), we will exceed all expectations," she told Xinhua.

"China is a priority for us. It is a very important market," she stressed.

On his part, Joussen explained why Greece is an important chapter on TUI's strategy.

"Greece is one of the very interesting destinations for all of our customers around the world, because it does not only have the sun and beaches, but also the historic sites and the enormous history, so many customers vary the authentic experience... They can feel the history so that is very important to them," he said.

"We have a master plan to increase tourism. We want to invest and we will invest if the conditions are right. The investments in Greece will be mainly around hotels as well as pots for out cruise ships," he said.

According to official data presented during Friday's visit approximately one fifth of the Greek gross domestic product (GDP) is generated in the travel industry. In 2016, tourism, a traditionally strong pillar of Greek economy which performed well even during the Greek debt crisis, provided a total of 860,000 jobs in Greece corresponding to 23.4 percent of all jobs. Enditem

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