Romania is a beautiful country suitable for attracting foreign tourists, but it needs a strong promotion, said the Greek Minister of Tourism, Vasilis Kikilias, in an interview with AGERPRES.
Foreign tourists will not come automatically unless there is a strategy for the whole world to find out what beauties can be seen in Romania, said the Greek official, who came to Bucharest to discuss with Romanian authorities and tourism companies how Romanians can travel to Greece this season.
Greece will be the main foreign tourist destination of Romanians this summer, he says, adding that there is no need for a certificate of vaccination at the border.
Which was the purpose of your visit to Romania ?
Because I promised Romanians, back in February, that I will be here in Bucharest to talk to the press, to talk to professionals in tourism and make the best possible effort to accommodate all travelers from Romania to Greece. In February I was here with the Prime Minister and a big number of ministers to meet with your Prime Minister and my counterpart, the Minister of Tourism. It was very productive and now it gives me the opportunity to listen to the professionals of the sector, the operators, the airline companies – all the tourist industry – and understand exactly what is needed.
So, I did come back and, of course, I announced that the biggest thing that was on the table – less bureaucracy, less protocols, for Romanians to travel easier to Greece, is done. From the 1st of May all that a Romanian needs to travel to Greece is his passport, nothing else.
So, you are here in person to be sure about this?
Yes, and usually politicians talk. I was here to listen to the professionals and to the people that are in the tourism industry for many, many years, to understand exactly what is needed and to be able to help with that, because there are so many Romanian friends of ours that travel to Greece and I want them to have a great time, a unique touristic experience, and to come back with the best possible psychology and talk about that, and come back next year also.
How important are Romanian tourists for Greece?
They are very important, and I was happy to hear last night from the professionals that we’re going to be the number 1 destination for Romania this year. I’m very, very happy to hear that, there are so many places in Greece that Romanians traditionally visit: Halkidiki, they visit Katerini in Pieria, Thassos in, of course, Kavala, of course Thessaloniki and Athens, they visit Crete and Rhodes, but now they visit new destinations, such as Kefalonia and the Ionian Islands, Lefkada, there’s a new charter and connection to Kos in the Dodecanese islands and so many more destinations that will link the countries, and, of course, it works vice versa. There are thousands of students in your med schools and your universities, we have a lot of businesspeople here from the 90’s until today – real estate, medical business.
I was discussing with my counterpart the possibility of making long weekends – Friday, Saturday, Sunday – for Greeks, also, to come to Romania.
The summer season is open now, but what are the restrictions?
Well, first of all, we’ve built up Greece as a safe destination. I have the honour to having been appointed Minister of Health, and because we were very successful in the way we dealt with the pandemic, we always want to keep that. But, on the other hand, together with that, we understand the need for travelers, and for people, to go out of the house where they were locked for two years, and travel and enjoy themselves. So, yes, there will be some protocols with masks and everything, but there’s no traveling restrictions, as I told you, and there’s the possibility for a family to choose five days, one week, or ten days to travel to Greece and do it in the best possible way.
So, there will be masks inside?
Until today, the decision is for masks for the professionals in hotels, restaurants, and coffee shops, but let’s face it, in the Greek summer, nobody’s inside, everybody’s outside. There’s beautiful weather, in the little towns, there are very nice little coffee shops outside, the bars and restaurants are outside, people eat by the beach, in the beach bars.
Everything moved outside.
Everything moves outside for many, many months in Greece, we don’t actually have a strong winter. Our winter is very, very mild, two, two and a half months. When we’re in season, the weather is perfect, it’s warm weather.
How are the prices this year?
The prices are still Okay. Of course, we were worried about inflation and worried about the energy crisis, and this has put a burden on everybody – on Greece, on Romania, on all Europe, all the world – but also, there is antagonism between free enterprises in Greece, the private sector, so I think that there is a places in Greece for every budget. So, if one chooses wisely and does some research – Okay, there is high-end tourism, of course, six-star, five-star hotels and high-quality tourism – but there is tourism, also, for smaller budgets and how nice it is. A traditional little taverna by the sea, eating a Greek fish, having a Greek wine, a calamari, Greek salad, and tzatziki – this is something unique, we offer a unique experience.
In comparison with last summer, how is, let’ say, a three-star hotel?
There are some three-star hotels which I think that will have a little bit increase in prices, and others, because of the competition, that will have a little decrease in prices. That’s why I’m saying that new technology offers tools – digital booking, social media, Google search. So, I advise an average Romanian family search and go to a tour operator, here in Romania, and find the best possible prices and the best possible destination.
How is Greece affected by the war in Ukraine?
Kikilias: Well, first of all, it’s a human tragedy and it’s something that’s beyond tourism. It’s devastating to see young people killed, young children, and families that have been separated. I hope and I pray that this will end soon, in the best possible way. Of course, because of the war in the heart of Europe – something that sounded unbelievable some months ago, I mean we haven’t all had such a thing for more than 80 years now, in Europe, but we’re faced with it and dealing with it, and the basic gas and electricity markets, the energy markets and the inflation are things that are worrying us in Greece, in Romania, and we have to see how we will deal with them.
Did you have many Ukrainian tourists in the last years? Or Russian tourists?
No. We didn’t have many Russian tourists, we didn’t have many Ukrainian tourists and that is giving us the opportunity to fill the gap with other destinations and other big markets, like the American market, the Romanian market, the English market, the Germans, or the Scandinavians, or the Israelis. We understand that the global framework is not stable, and there’s a little jeopardy, but then again, the numbers are very assuring for us, until today. It’s not just the numbers, but the inner need… Tourism is a state of mind, to enjoy yourself and relax and live some days in the best possible conditions and we’re working hard towards that goal, and we will see what happens at the end of 2022.
What can you tell us about Romanian tourism? What are we doing Okay and what should we promote more?
Well, I discussed with my friend, the Minister of Tourism of your country, and we have pointed out two or three targets. First one is that we have ambassadors here, for example Greek students, people that work here, and we have beautiful scenery here in Bucharest, and also in Constanta and Cluj, or maybe in the Carpathians, you have great tradition, Orthodox links with us, all these beauties people outside Romania must know about. So, I would suggest strong campaign, advertising, the use of social media and ambassadors abroad, in order to constantly increase the tourist flows to Romania. Now, concerning Greece, what we decided to do is to strengthen the school trips and vacations, and the university trips and vacations – actually, when I flew with Aegean yesterday, coming to Bucharest, there were two schools on the flight, it was a full flight, big plane and full flight.
The second thing is long weekends, we have a tradition in Greece of flying abroad on the weekend – maybe to Rome, or Milan, or Paris, or London, why not Bucharest, also, and other cities? It’s doable, it’s possible.
The third thing is religious tourism – pilgrims and people with common Orthodox church and religion that would love to travel to Romania to see culture, traditions, churches and sightseeing all over the country. This cannot happen automatically, you need milestones and small steps, but I’m optimistic that if this is the goal we’ll be able to achieve it.