The 2019 Greece tourism season so far features Russia tourist bookings and revenue nosedive compared to anticipated figures. A report by the European Travel Commission shows more work needs to be done to solidify this market segment. With Russia touristic losses in view, here’s a look at what the GNTO has done wrong overall.
First the Bad News
A new report from the ETC, “European Tourism – Trends & Prospects (Q2/2019)” reveals that efforts to stimulate growth in Russia-Greece tourism flow saw only a modicum of success. The initiative “Greece – Russia Year of Tourism 2017-2018” did not generate the anticipated results, according to the ETC figures. GTP reports that the 2017-2018 Greece-Russia year “failed to yield any significant return during the capacity building and preparation phase”.
Turkey eclipsed Greece in overnights, but the fact Montenegro outpaced Greece seems more interesting. Even Slovenia saw more growth in arrivals than Greece. But, the reports only hint at the root cause of the disappointing Russia-Greece turnout. Experts are digging too deep to try and analyze a simple problem.
The problem with Greece’s tourism and hospitality sector is communication owing to cut budgets. Bottom line, there is no significant marketing effort engaging Russia outside tour companies and some lip service. There is precious little marketing and PR being done even in English, but Russian language campaigns are non-existent. And get this, Russians don’t speak Greek or English casually. The fact Germans are choosing Montenegro, Serbia, Turkey, Slovenia, and even Bulgaria over Greek destinations bears mentioning here too. German arrivals to Montenegro have skyrocketed 486% so far this year.
Greece Investing in Greece
France, the UK, and the U.S. were evidently got the biggest portion of Greek marketing efforts. Arrivals from France are up 42.8%, and we are seeing a lot more French tourists in our travels here on Crete. In fact, the former tourism minister of Greece did engage these inbound markets in 2018. Given those visits were successful, we must look at the overall budget for tourism as the culprit.
If we look at the situation for Greece tourism ministry, the new administration needs to consider investment in tourism as an ROI quotient. When Tourism Minister Harry Theoharis recommends marketing budget to Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, past investments in U.S., UK, and French travelers must be used as a template to invest budget in Russia, China, and other inbound sectors.
The Greek Parliament should be shown how each segment of tourism revenue returns on investment. The breakdown will be complex when subdivided e.g. luxury, budget, alternative and so on, but it should be clear that increased budgets can increase Greece’s bottom line. Russia is a perfect test case since so little has been done to take advantage of the potential. The ensuing stagnation is illustrated in the live chart below. The numbers can be juggled any way you want, but the bottom line is seen at the citizen level. This is a subject for a larger report, but Greece’s current return on investment is gleaned by squeezing in cheaper prices.
In my business I see just about everything happening in European tourism, from a digital perspective. My contacts in Russia and across Eastern Europe provide fresh insight, as well. As a digital analyst for almost 20 years, if I cannot see a marketing effort, imagine what the average stakeholder sees. The GNTO made a massive effort back in 2013-2014 to engage the world. Look at the best marketing materials and you will find them dated to prove my point.
One example, in 2017 the Acropolis Museum, as well as the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, featured a series of shows in Russia on TV channel Russia 1, which bore fruit in the 2018 season. Conversely, when Greece’s former Tourism Minister, Elena Kountoura was at the Moscow International Travel and Tourism Exhibition (MITT) projections were for big growth in Russia-Greece numbers. This did not come to pass. If I had to bet money, I’d say Ms. Kountoura held a press conference, walked around the venue, and attended some after parties and made an appearance, and not much more.
One million Russian tourists were projected to visit Greece in March-April of this year. I don’t see this happening by year’s end. Greece has simply traded a Russian visitor for a French one, etc. Back when the GNTO created initiatives like the Incredible Crete effort in 2013-2014, the ROI was massive in the short term. It’s fair to say that the GNTO and local entities are still riding the tide of what we did five years ago.
The video above got 80,000 views and I know for a fact there was no major ad boost of this or other efforts. I expect I personally am responsible for over 10,000 of these views since I reported embedding these videos on hundreds of reports, stories, blog posts, and social media channels. Incredible Crete is only a placeholder now. Looking at the relative success of the Incredible Crete effort, you can compare this regional effort to the overall GNTO Youtube effort. Crete outshines the national effort an order of magnitude. Put bluntly, some people in Athens did not know what they were doing. A fantastic creative initiative has been left to sink into relative obscurity.
Get Off Your Duffs
One of the biggest problems Greece officials and business owners have is complacency and stagnation. The “set-it-and-let-it” attitude is prevalent. I call the situation a “bean counter” illness. In the economics of today, priority goes to penny-pinching. And marketing gets sliced first. And this is not just a governmental problem. Hoteliers and other hospitality stakeholders are guilty of economizing their priorities too. The Russia segment is perfect proof. Because of language and other aspects, the market is considered “difficult” – so the UK and the U.S. get the bigger slice of the budget.
With the tens of millions of euros being invested in Greek and EU projects, it seems to me, some economic geniuses would think of going back to test cases. What was the ultimate ROI of the rebrand Visit Greece? What about the Incredible Crete PR effort? Why is this not ongoing? Perhaps the new prime minister and the government will look into this. I am sure the GNTO is capable of boosting Greece across all the segments. It’s only a matter of investment for tourism ROI.