Greece moves to support islands hit by refugee crisis

Greece moves to support islands hit by refugee crisis

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Greece is putting together a ‘tourism action plan’ to support islands handling large numbers of refugees as the EU and Turkey thrash out a deal to reduce the flow of migrants.

Greek tourism minister Elena Kountoura has announced extra funds for the islands hardest hit by the refugee crisis, and is set to unveil marketing plans at German trade show ITB this week.

This is likely to include fam trips to the Aegean islands to show the media and trade how far refugee camps are from resorts, and funding for joint promotions 
with tour operators.

Bookings to Kos, Samos, Lesbos and Chios have been hit hard by the refugee crisis. Sunvil reported last week that bookings to Samos were down 35% year on year, despite analyst GfK reporting Greece is among the destinations showing greatest growth at the end of January.

Chairman Noel Josephides said Samos was running a smooth operation to receive up to 500 refugees each day. “It’s efficient and well run,” he said.

Peter Cookson, managing director of agency chain Spear Travels, said Kountoura was “one of the best-placed people to help put Greece back on the tourism map this year”, but admitted: “Fam trips won’t solve the problem of tourists not going to Greece. Those of us who know it well still manage to sell it, but the whole perspective of the country with regards to the immigrants and other internal problems has to change.”

Shona Lyons, head of sales and marketing at Crusader Travel, which partnered with Sunvil to fly supplies to refugees in Samos last year, welcomed moves to promote Greece. “I’ve not noticed a drop in bookings to Greece, but fam trips would be fantastic. We need to support Greece; it is dealing with 
a very difficult situation.”

Akin Koc, managing director of Turkey specialist Anatolian Sky, said: “Both Greece and Turkey need more positive promotion; everyone has forgotten how beautiful and good value they are.”

The tourism plan comes as the EU and Turkey agreed in principle to return migrants arriving in Greece from Turkey. For each Syrian sent back, a Syrian already in Turkey would be resettled in the EU.

Commenting on the plan, Cookson said: “The proposed repatriation of immigrants will hopefully improve matters but, equally, it could be disastrous 
PR if it all backfires.”

Christina Kalogera, director of the Greek National Tourist Office, said UK visitor numbers to Greece were up 14.7% last year to more than 2.3 million and is confident numbers will rise again this year.

“The migrant crisis is obviously an important humanitarian issue, but we anticipate Greek tourism will remain unaffected,” she said.

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