A few days ago Argo News had the opportunity to discuss with Greek parliamentarian, Dr. Nikos Igoumenidis, the importance of emerging tourism trends and the necessary shift by all stakeholders. Our conversation traversed issues like digital engagement and optimization, the potential and impacts of alt tourism, and what the Greek government is doing to advance the tourism product.
The first question I had for Dr. Igoumenidis was about Google’s new program to help small businesses on Crete to extend the island’s tourism season by improving digital presence. I asked the Crete native about the “quality” tourism to the island as opposed to big volume. Since Crete and the rest of Greece have been in the midsts of a crippling economic situation some years now, several factors negate the overall win for tourism intensive businesses. Greece’s very high tax rate is a factor hampering business, but selling key destinations like Crete dirt cheap is an even bigger concern. The problem of overselling to budget tour operators is another mitigating factor, but Igoumenidis suggests Greek initiatives to open up new foreign markets to attract high-income visitors are now paying off. Here on Crete, our colleagues’ efforts to promote luxury tourism (for instance) are just beginning to pay off. As for the former Director at Crete’s University Hospital’s (PAGNI) cardiology clinic, he believes reestablishing the Ministry of Tourism as an independent entity as it was in the past, is key to forwarding the national tourism strategy.
Other key components for developing Crete’s sustainable tourism product include; improving flight frequency and adding routes, the addition of Minoan palace to UNESCO’s cultural monuments, alternative tourism offerings, and coordinating with the EU and other entities lead a long list of efforts already undertaken by Igoumenidis and his colleagues.
Turning to the subject of profitability and economic impact, I asked Dr. Nikos Igoumenidis about the potential of thematic tourism and premium touristic offerings. As I’ve pointed out, one major issue for Cretan enterprises is the sinkhole of cheap overbooking in order to simply sustain businesses. In the long term, this is a losing proposition. Demand on Crete does not result, as it should, in increased price. This hurts individuals and the overall industry in the long run. One solution may be to convert demand by developing the aforementioned theme tourism. Simply extending the tourism season is not enough to transform the profit and sustainability potential of Crete. In this area lawmakers in Athens have started repealing regulations that hampered businesses small and large, simplifying procedures, and adding support mechanisms for Crete entrepreneurs and businesses. But governmental policy, aid, and controls only go so far to ensure that Crete thrives under a new sustainable tourism regime. Igoumenidis also addressed this:
“Let me also tell you that you are absolutely right when you ask about business aid through tourism, but instead of focusing on profit margins, I would consider linking tourism to social efficiency and defending the value of work. I would like to say that today, workers, tourism professionals and local people must take the floor.”
(The Instagram at Agia Pelagia above shows one value of Crete)
This brings us to the fundamental question of whether or not Cretans can cooperate and partner to guarantee the island’s ultimate success. In our experience on the island so far, a general lack of cooperation seems like the biggest hurdle to forward momentum. Again Igoumenidis addressed this issue appropriately in pointing out the link in between tourism and productive activities and capabilities. Furthermore, the idea Igoumenidis brought to my attention, that of “Beyond the sun and the sea, there are also the local Cretan products,” is precisely the dogma island stakeholders should be adopting – and collectively, rather than individually.
Our Q & A continued, touching on areas of great interest including the specifics of medical tourism potential and the luxury market. But my most significant takeaway was the necessity for Cretans to “team up” to effect the changes necessary for growth. This is vital for any kind of sustainable future for islanders, and for the tourist who learn to cherish the place epic poet Homer wrote of as the “land called Crete, in the midst of the wine–dark sea.”
I’d like to thank Nikos Igoumenidis for taking his valuable time to address some of Crete’s most pressing issues for our readers.