Michael Amiridis: Eastern Macedonia to increase tourism revenue by 400%

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Eastern Macedonia to increase tourism revenue by 400%Mr. Amiridis reveals that the Region plans to create a Destination Management Organization which will allow it to become an international ''Touristic Destination of Excellence '' attracting visitors from all over Europe and beyond

Region of Eastern Macedonia & Thrace Deputy Regional Governor for Tourism, Exhibitions, Support of Public Relations and Foreign Affairs Michael Amiridis reveals the Regional Government's ambitious aim to quadraple tourism generated traffic and revenues in the next years, from today's 5% to the country media average of 20%, at least.

Mr. Amiridis stresses that this objective can be achieved by showcasing the region's unique combination of natural beauty, national parks, history, culture, tradition, local products, gastronomy and major events on top of the traditional "sun and sea" attractions of the Aegean coastline and the picturesque islands of Thassos and Samothraki.

He also reveals that the Region plans to create a Destination Management Organization which will allow it to become an international ''Touristic Destination of Excellence '' attracting visitors from all over Europe and beyond and extend the tourist season throughout the whole year.

Mr Amiridis full interview text follows:

What are the challenges and prospects of tourism development in your region?

The Region of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace (R-EMT) has included since September 2014 tourism as a cornerstone of its development policy. Nowadays, tourism sector contributes less than 5% of our region's gross product. The aim is for this to be significantly increased during the next 10 years, approaching Greece's average or, in any case, become at least 20%. This constitutes a principal objective for Regional Governor George Pavlidis administration's vision and he proves that every day.

The Region of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace, is located at the north-east part of Greece and has extended borders with Bulgaria and Turkey. During previous decades, these borders were practically impenetrable     without border pass infrastructure and prohibited any chance for direct relations with our neighbors. During recent years this changed and there is currently free and easy access from north and east. The financial status of Balkan countries improved dramatically. This was an opportunity for our Balkan friends to discover us. We have a lot of natural beauties and retain the unspoiled Greek traditional way of life. We also have a beautiful Aegean coast line and two rare Islands, Thassos and Samothraki. We represent thus a unique, natural and easy access to marvelous, clean sea and famous Greek life style, for over 60.000.000 people within a 400 km radius.  This new option, combined with alternative, religious and cultural tourism provides a definite competitive advantage enabling us to become a major, all-year-round destination for all these people. 

We will focus on providing quality services, local experience and traditional Greek hospitality. Balkan Markets are our main targets that already providing us with hundreds of thousands visitors by car every year, but we also plan to be more active and build concrete relations with the rest of Europe. The greatest challenge is to motivate the local people and convince them to follow us in our efforts to achieve that goal. We currently represent only 2.75% of beds of Greece but our potential visitors and needs seem to be much bigger. At present time, 38.000 beds in hotels and other accommodations, have to serve millions of potential tourists. These beds are not enough. For this, we need more private investments especially along our coast line. We need new hotels, we must work to encourage potential investors and, at the same time, enable the benefits of a rising touristic economy to reach the base of our community.

Do you have a specific plan in order to promote the tourist attractions and competitive advantages of your region?

Our decision is to place tourism in the center of our regional development policy by implementing the following: 

a) Improving access and traffic infrastructure at border gates, airports and ports.

b) Removing bureaucratic problems and helping foreign visitors have an easier access to Greece (72 hours Visa, tourist buses crossing from Greek-Bulgarian border pass of Nymphea and St. Constantine, solving problems in granting visas from Greek Consulates etc).

c) Participate actively in the new regional development plan for 2014-2020 in order to acquire powerful financing tools directly and indirectly for tourism and facilitate public and private investments.

d) Adopting smart specialization actions and thematic tourism initiatives since R-EMT is a pilot region in this for all Europe.

e) Connecting tourism industry with the local economy sectors (agricultural and local products processing, traditional art etc).

f) Strengthening intraregional consciousness and helping tourism sector to engage most of our residents.

g) Marketing and advertisement actions in several European countries, in Greece but also inside the R-EMT.

For long term results, the R-EMT prepared a Strategic Plan for Tourism which will guide us in further actions with the intention to create, as a tool for consultation, a Destination Management Organization (DMO). DMO will operate with technocratic criteria and characteristics in order to achieve the objectives within the deadlines. Its main target over the next 5 years is for R-EMT to become ''Touristic Destination of Excellence '', involving three main points to invest: NATURE - CULTURE – PLACE without of course forgetting ‘’Sea and Sun’’. 

Our unique elements form a strong and attractive travel identity. Authentic, differentiated according to the seasons of the year, incorporating various ingredients of history, culture, tradition, local products, gastronomy and major events. It is important to advertise the hidden treasures of R-EMT and let them become an integrated product experience as a compact, comprehensive, identity (environment, landscapes, pictures).

It is obvious therefore, that Tourism Policy for the R-EMT is not limited only to promotional activities. We go in-depth on a compact multi-dimensional tourism policy, capable of providing sustainable and profitable benefit for the whole society, motivating private investments and strengthening technical, cultural and environmental infrastructure which indirectly supports Tourism Development.

What specific EU funded 2014-2020 programs are allocated for tourism in your Region?

European Union funded ESPA program for 2014-2020 plays an important role for us. The Region Governor George Pavlidis decided for a large percentage of its funds to be directed towards tourism. ‘’Egnatia Culture Tourism’’ is a sub program that already exemplifies this, mobilizing not only the private sector but also municipalities and other governmental institutions. Additionally, we intend to use other EU funds, such as Black Sea and Med European programs, to improve National Parks, Yachting and Short Cruises tourism, etc. Tourism will also be dominant in the next Interreg program, between Greece and Bulgaria, improving previous actions and infrastructures while making new steps for common touristic products and activities.

How can your region prolong the tourist season? What measures or initiatives are required for this long awaited objective to be realized?

This question concerns all of Greece and it is not new. For many years, almost everybody in tourism sector speaks about that, without great success, until now. People travel here from the north and Balkans mainly for sea and sun. Also, most of them during winter have strong obligations and involvements that do not allow them to have long vacations, like in the summer, but only small breaks. So, there isn't much money in this and not so many hotel invest in it. We understand that as long the main hotel units are in coastline and there is not any other significant point of interest, we cannot reach our summer numbers during other seasons. 

What we plan to do in R-EMT is to improve the elements that makes us eligible for 4 season tourism with a unique ‘’Nature – Culture – Place’’ combination. Our four National Parks, unique in Europe, outdoor activities, culture monuments and festivals, improved access and experience of our antiquities, gastronomy and local products can achieve that. All of them are absolutely essential in order to retain visitors' attraction for the rest of the year. The key issue is to motivate the private sector to work with us, to work harder and with faith. We need to first build a strong destination with attractive elements for all-year-round visitors but we cannot succeed in that cause without our hotel owners.



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