Greece welcomes more Chinese visitors
Greece and China are two of the most ancient civilizations, both of which boast long histories and a significant influence on the West and the East.
We enjoy warm relations, friendship and mutual understanding between our people that cherish the importance of cultural heritage. Our bilateral relations have entered a new era. We are building a strong strategic relationship. This is the result of our mutual strong will on a top political level.
It was sealed during the two official visits of the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to China in July 2016 and May 2017, and his meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang. There has been a series of exchanges of official visits by top government officials and several business missions between our two countries to strengthen relations at all levels.
We have also had important visits of Chinese officials to Greece. Most recently, I had the pleasure of meeting a member of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and secretary of the CPC Beijing Municipal Committee Cai Qi, in Athens.
We have a thriving Chinese community in Athens and large-scale investments by leading Chinese groups, such as COSCO’s investment in the port of Piraeus, the main gateway and port for trade and tourism in Europe. We are encouraging the business communities of our countries to explore and take advantage of the new opportunities in all productive sectors, which will create mutual benefits. We have already seen significant results, and a number of key bilateral cooperation agreements have been signed.
From our three-year action plan for bilateral cooperation, strategic projects have emerged in the fields of infrastructure, transport, energy and telecommunications. At the same time, we have greatly expanded the opportunities to work together in very dynamic areas such as banking and finance, trade, agriculture, culture and tourism.
We are active supporters of the Belt and Road Initiative and have embraced programs, actions and initiatives that bring to life the great vision of this endeavor. Last year, we celebrated the Greece-China Year of Cultural Exchange, which brings our people closer.
China supported and participated with six other countries in our initiative for the Forum of Ancient Civilizations in Athens.
This year, we are committed to further promoting tourism as we celebrate the EU-China tourism year. We will strengthen our international role in global decision-making to shape a sustainable and inclusive tourism growth. We are very pleased that Greece was elected as a member of the Executive Board of the United Nations World Tourism Organization for 2018-21 during its general assembly in Chengdu in 2017.
In October, Greece will host the international meeting of the United Nations World Tourism Organization for tourism on the Silk Road. It is a major driving force for cooperation, growth and prosperity. It is also a bridge for new projects and partnerships in a number of productive sectors.
Greece, a member of the European family, has a strategic position as a gateway to Europe. Tourism has emerged as a prosperous field of new opportunities to collaborate. Over the last three years, we have implemented our national tourism policy to establish Greece as an attractive year-round tourist destination. We increased inbound tourism by 25 percent with growth rates that are more than 7 percent higher than the global average. In 2017, we had 30 million tourists in Greece, and 2018 is an amazing year with an impressive double-digit growth from all of our foreign markets. In addition, 3 million airline seats have been added to our regional airports.
China is an important market for us, and we have implemented a very dynamic plan to showcase all the opportunities and advantages to promote travel and tourism. Through our joint action plan that started in 2016, one of our main goals was to upgrade air connectivity, which is key for tourism growth.
The Athens-Beijing yearround flight launched last September has been a great success in increasing tourism. In 2017, we experienced an increase of 35 percent in tourism arrivals in Greece from China and for 2018, we have had more than a 50 percent increase.
Greece is an established tourist destination and a very safe, friendly country known for its warm hospitality. After all, Greece is the largest and most diverse complex of islands in the Mediterranean and Europe with the longest coastline.
Cultural tourism is the protagonist. The Chinese people have a deep appreciation for our cultural heritage. We invite our Chinese friends to visit our 18 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and choose from among more than 100 archaeological sites and 500 museums. We also want to invite Chinese guests to participate in international festivals for culture, tradition and gastronomy and experience major sports events such as the Authentic Marathon.
Greece is an ideal destination for sea tourism with 42 unique cruise destinations, of which 10 are top choices internationally for luxury holidays. We promote yachting and the great services offered in 153 tourist ports as well as diving in our safe, crystal-clear blue waters to view our natural underwater treasures.
Greece is also a worldfamous destination for high-end vacations in modern luxurious hotels and resorts as well as boutique hotels.
All of Greece, with its breathtaking landscapes and its magic light, is an ideal setting for filming throughout the year. We have had several major Chinese productions of successful TV shows, movies and documentaries shot in Greece, such as
Beijing Love Story (2014) and The Radiance of the Aegean (2016).
At the same time, we promote integrated thematic tourist products focused on authentic thematic experiences, such as health and wellness. Greece, like China, has a long medical tradition. It is the homeland of Hippocrates (460-370BC), the father of modern medicine, who promoted longevity, well-being and a healthy mind in a healthy body as a way of living.
The Greek mainland with more than 3,000 authentic and traditional villages and more than 20 ski resorts, introduces our visitors to the culture, rich nature and endless outdoor activities in each one of our 13 diverse regions.
We are promoting all these new exclusive travel experiences in our meetings with Chinese professionals in tourism through cooperation and joint advertisement programs in our promotional actions in all digital and traditional media with a series of trips and a very dynamic presence in international tourism exhibitions. I invite you all to visit Greece to experience its incredible beauty and travel experiences that our country offers generously to its visitors, making them feel right at home.
The Greek Minister of Tourism Elena Kountoura