We are extremely happy that our friends from Serbia mainly choose Greece for their holidays, every year
Greece is the leading tourist destination in the region of Southern Europe and the Mediterranean. Serbia is the leading country in the region when it comes to the vaccination. Hopefully these two points of excellence will create a good summer synergy that was disrupted severely in 2020 due to pandemic. For the May issue of Diplomacy& Commerce, we spoke with Greek Tourism Minister Harry Theoharis about readiness for summer 2021, opening for the Serbian citizens, and predictions for this year.
Mr Theoharis, do you think that Greece ready for the 2021 summer season?
As soon as the pandemic broke out, the Greek government and the Ministry of Tourism devoted all their efforts to the continuous monitoring and evaluation of this challenging situation. Today, just before the tourist season starts, we have already adopted our strategic plan, the focal point being the general restart of tourism on 14th May. For this purpose, we have already determined the parameters that will ensure the safety of both the visitors and the local population and at the same time, ensure that they have a great summer.
The Green Digital Vaccination Certificate – a proposal made by the Greek Prime Minister, Mr Kyriakos Mitsotakis, to our partners in the EU – was approved by the European Commission and will soon be a formal process for entering a European country. With this certificate in place, we have simplified travelling procedures, while ensuring the health and safety of all.
The Certificate will confirm that the holder has been vaccinated; alternatively that he/she has to show a recent negative test or antibodies to the virus. All of the above make Greece a safe travelling destination and prove that we are ready for a beautiful summer.
What Serbian tourists have to do on their side to enjoy again the breathtaking natural attractions in Greece, the abundant cultural heritage and the joie de vivre that the Greeks are known for?
We are extremely happy that our friends from Serbia usually choose Greece for their holidays every year. With the Green Digital Vaccination Certificate, Serbian tourists will be able to visit Greece and spend their holidays in our country without any delays. The certificate means that for a visitor to enter the country, they are required to have proof that they have vaccinated or a fresh test showing that they are corona-negative or have developed immunity as a result of the recovery from the virus. At the same time, special units will perform sampling rapid tests. We are convinced that, like last year, tourism will not aggravate the health situation in our country further. Having said that, it is important to note that we are considering the possibility of starting this year’s tourist season before the official restart on May 14th by allowing people from certain countries to come to Greece earlier. Serbia is one of them.
The majority of Serbian tourists stayed “behind” Greek borders last summer. This did not go down well in the Serbian public. What do you think about the negative effect that caused and is Greece doing something special to appeal to the Serbs to come again?
With the strategic plan for the resumption of Greek tourism, we have invested significant effort, in line with the situation, to create the ideal conditions for entry into our country. For this reason, I am confident that there will be no problems from now on, and also that an occasional glitch will be easily resolved, thus minimizing any inconvenience.
How many tourists from Serbia usually visit Greece during one season?
Greece is a popular destination for Serbs, and Serbia is a very important market for Greek tourism. In recent years, before the pandemic, the trend had been steadily increasing. In 2019, more than 1 million Serbian tourists visited Greece. We believe that we will soon recover and that our Serbian friends will continue to trust Greece as their ultimate holiday destination.
2020 has been a challenging year for tourism worldwide. You have said that Greece has been updating last year’s health protocols. What does that practically mean for foreign tourists?
Last year, the health protocols were a great tool that helped us to develop the tourist season without problems and without exacerbating the pandemic figures. Hotels and generally all companies involved in tourism have implemented these protocols in an exemplary manner; by taking responsibility they contributed to limiting the transmission of the virus.
We are currently in close contact and cooperation with companies and professionals regarding the renewal of the health protocols. To this effect, the experience we have gained so far will play a crucial role.
This year we will try to be more flexible, to make room for the best accommodation experience. For example, guests will be able to choose the food from a buffet using disposable gloves. Utilizing the know-how we have acquired so far, we will be ready to present these changes very soon, in order to strengthen our position and our defence against the pandemic.
How many tourists visited Greece in 2020 compared to 2019?
Last year, we played host to over 6 million tourists. May I remind you that, last year, we did not have vaccines or advanced and sufficient rapid tests. This year we have all that. Also, this year, the Ministry of Tourism has already proposed that tourist workers should be vaccinated as a priority. Nevertheless, I would not dare make a prediction. I am optimistic that 2021 will be better than last year and that will set Greece on a path of future growth and recovery.
How tourists will enter Greece this year?
In order to visit our country, one must either be vaccinated, show a recent negative test or have recovered from the coronavirus. Greek authorities will also conduct random Covid-19 tests at the country’s entrance points through the EVA system, which indicates which travellers should be tested upon arrival. Those who test negative will be able to go to their hotel and enjoy their vacation without any additional obligation, following the same rules that apply to every Greek citizen and every guest. To assure safety, the Greek government has prioritized the vaccination of tourism employees, as they will come in contact with tourists the most. This, together with the health protocols, which last year proved to be ‘saviours’, are two fundamental factors for the successful opening of Greek tourism in 2021.
Greece and Serbia sign tourism agreement to resume travel
The Greek Tourism Minister, Harry Theoharis, and Serbian Minister of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications, Tatjana Matić, have agreed to closer cooperation aiming to counter the Covid-19 pandemic’s impact on the tourist flow between Greece and Serbia. The two ministers signed a joint declaration in Belgrade and pledged mutual respect to health measures and compliance to related tourism legislation in each other’s country. In the joint declaration, the two countries have pledged to invest strong effort into finding solutions to the problems caused by Covid-19. One of the solutions to ensure the health protection of travellers is the mutual recognition of both countries’ digital Covid-19 health certificates.
The Greek Tourism Minister underlined that the joint declaration “seals the friendship and understanding” between the two countries. According to the joint declaration, the two ministers will be in constant contact to exchange information concerning the progress of vaccinations and the latest developments of the epidemiological situation in Greece and Serbia, to propose new measures to facilitate travel and tourism, provided that the relevant conditions are met. Also, the international obligations and synergies of Greece and Serbia in the field of tourism will be harmonized with the procedures that regulate the entry of tourists in both countries.