As Harry Theoharis exits his position as Greece’s Minister of Tourism, there’s little doubt in people’s minds he did his best to drive more tourists to Greece. Despite the fact his demeanor and some of his methods were in question, delivering 6 million travelers during the peak of a pandemic was no easy feat. So, the question arises, “Why now?”
While 2021 tourist figures do not compare with the record of 33 million in 2019, Theoharis, at the behest of his prime minister, drove critical revenues when a cripled economy battered by lockdowns threatened. Just before he was replaced, Theoharis told SchengenVisaInfo.com that in the essential summer months of July and August that more than two million arrived even with conditions they are vaccinated, have a negative molecular test or proof of having recovered from the Coronavirus. The minister was quoted saying:
“For the first time, our country surpassed France itself as a favorite destination for the French. That is, the French traveled more to Greece than to their own country. This is a very important development.”
And in the tone of this statement one can find the core of criticisms the former tourism boss received. The statement is caloused, cold, bean counter talk at a time when a virus is killing people and dreams, and when wildfires have consumed even more of the public’s pysche. Still, we have to question the wisdom of replacing such a capable tourism campaigner. I wonder why Prime Minister Mitstotakis did not simply ask Theorharis to tone down the bragging narrative? Perhaps this character trait of Theorharis was not his trait?
Regardless of the inner workings of the New Democracy government, many of the former minister’s programs were highly successful. It just seems strange that he was replaced so unceremoniously? The question was never whether or not Harry Theoharis was capable. The tenor and tone of the entire administration effort was at the core of our complaints, and those of hundreds of others in media, policy, and in the public. Was Theoharis thrown under the proverbial bus? The problem with Theoharis was not about proficiency, and not really about personality, it was really a problem of the advisability of restarting tourism full bore with a pandemic going on. And this was not Theoharis’ decision.
The purpose behind appointing Vassilis Kikilias to replace Theoharis will only be understood once the new minster gets his feet wet demonstrating whether or not New Democracy has a new plan that is successful in a different way. Or, at least, with a different and more humane tone. The prime minister ran into a snag with his cabinet reshuffle earlier this week when one of his appointees suddenly quit before ever really taking any action. Conventional wisdom tells us, the problems in Greece are not because of individual cabinet members. The problems are more systemic.
Evangelos Apostolakis, a former chief of the Greek armed forces and the defense minister pulled out of the Cabinet just before the swearing-in after New Democracy’s opposition said he was disloyal. Mixed messages, governments pulling apart in the middle, strategies that seem to go in multiple directions, Greece is quickly becoming a bit of an enigma viability wise.
Take the news that Greece has snagged half of all 2021 cruise tourism in the Med. Combine this with COVID or wildfire disaster news and one gets the feeling the country will tear itself apart before leadership figures out what the real priority is. Clearly, the public should come first health and safety wise. But the rhetoric and the method has all been economically focused.
It will be interesting, and crucial to watch the initial efforts of Vassilis Kikilias and these other minsters as they carry on the work of running Greece.