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Keynote speech of the Chief Spokesperson of the European Commission, Margaritis Schinas, at the 15th SETE Conference “Tourism & Development”

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It is a great pleasure and honour to be addressing today’s 15th Conference of the Greek Tourism Confederation, which is being held at a pivotal time, not just for our country, but for the whole of the European Union. Especially for the EU, it is vital for there to be a direct channel of communication with the representatives of the living economy and, what’s more, a sector that enhances the image of today’s Greece in the world.

I am not here with you today to place a wager.

I am here with you today to talk about the great wager that we call Greek Tourism.

But before that I would like to say a few words about the developments taking shape in Europe today, as well as the situation and prospects of the Greek economy. It is self-evident that Greek tourism is intrinsically linked with these developments.

1. Europe is being shaken, but is still standing

The EU is facing an unprecedented succession of multi-crises that, despite shaking it, did not prove capable of destabilizing it, as many alarmists hoped. These are the same alarmists who predicted, as early as 2011, that the Eurozone would break up and that Greece would return to the drachma. They were proved wrong and will be proved wrong now as well.

Under certain conditions, in fact, the appearance of these unforeseen crises (refugee crisis, Brexit, terrorism) may have a unifying effect on the overall endeavour of European integration. A few examples: On the refugee crisis – the largest population movement in Europe since the Second World War – October 2016 finds us in a much better condition than we were in the dramatic summer of 2015. In the economy, employment is returning to pre-crisis levels and deficits are falling. The Juncker plan has so far brought over €120 billion in investments to the real economy. In the environmental sector, the EU is leading the battle against climate change, being among the first to ratify the COP21 agreement that was reached last year in Paris.

From here on in, 2 main priorities are salient:

a) strengthening of the cohesion of the 27 through a positive political agenda that serves their common interests

b) promotion of specific measures that improve citizens’ day-to-day lives (combatting of unemployment through extension and doubling of the resources of the Juncker investment plan) and especially the day-to-day lives of young Europeans (5G by 2025, free wifi by 2020, European volunteer corps).

The fight against populism and all those who promise easy and effortless isolationist solutions will be won only through the generation of specific political solutions by Brussels and for citizens, not through a Brussels-centric consideration of the reality of the situation.

2. Greece on the path of hope

Greece is not simply in a process of rebooting its economy, but, with the assistance of the EU, it is on a course of building a more creditable and modern state. It is natural that this course should cause tensions, meet with reactions and often be disparaged, but it is certain that a) it is already producing not always visible, but very real results b) it is undoing the pathologies of the past (client state-employer rather than state-provider of services for the citizen, rampant shortfalls to the detriment of younger generations) and c) itis building new structures that introduce transparency and efficiency (Independent Secretariat General for Revenues, Good administration of the Banking System, Reorganization of the Justice System, Combatting of Corruption and political money).

What is most important from here forward is the timely completion of the 2018 programme, the creation of a climate of investment security and predictability, the sincere political bolstering of the overall endeavour, as well as society’s ownership of the reform effort.

The great sacrifices of the Greek people over the past seven years must not be squandered. We are on the threshold of hopeful developments, with the return to growth perhaps coming earlier than expected and with the speedy completion – that we all hope for – of the second review, which starts this week, completing the most important pending reforms.

It goes without saying that these hopeful data in the greenhouse of the Greek economy also bode equally well for the most important Greek crop in the greenhouse: Greek Tourism.

3. Economy – Tourism – Growth: interdependent notions

No one has the right to ignore Tourism’s significant contribution to gross domestic product.

I’m not going to tire you with numbers. Besides, the latest data have already been heard in this hall. At the end of the coming decade, in 2026, Tourism’s overall contribution to the country’s GDP will surpass 22%, while the direct and indirect employment linked to the sector will reach 28% of total employment. These two pieces of data alone verify beyond any doubt that tourism is the Greek economy’s real ‘tiger’.

That’s is the good news.

While tourism is taking off, the Greek economy is continuing on the difficult path of recovery.

A few weeks ago, the Global Competitiveness Report for 2016-2017 came out, showing the deterioration of the Greek economy’s international competitiveness ranking. Specifically, Greece has fallen five places in the list of the most competitive economies and is now in 86th place among 138 countries.

In critical indicators of competitiveness, such as financial market development, Greece is in 136th place among 138 countries, and it is in 137th place with regard to access to financing.

That’s the bad news.

The conclusion looks simple: tourism pulls the cart of the Greek economy, but the Greek economy also needs to definitively turn the page in order to facilitate, rather than hinder, tourism.

4. Tourism is a matter of collective national responsibility

Despite the difficulties of recent years, Greek Tourism succeeded in safeguarding the competitiveness of the tourism product.

But this doesn’t mean that multifaceted support isn’t needed on both the national and European levels. It doesn’t mean that something that works well – excellently, I would say – should be left to its fate.

The support of Greek Tourism is not a matter of partial, sectoral or regional thinking or expediencies, but a broad collective and national responsibility.

From the privileged – and, by necessity, wide-angle – standpoint of the overseas Greek, and without the slightest hint of subjectivity, I find the obvious to be the case every day: that our country is the most beautiful region of the Mediterranean, one of the best-known and most attractive destinations worldwide.

Beyond its exceptional natural beauty, Greece is currently a point of reference as a unique oasis of stability and a beacon of security in a wider destabilized region. In the eyes of many, it is the epicentre of European soft power, in a region where the neighbours and competitors to the north, south and east of our borders are plagued with chronic and new problems. With a society that is hospitable, open, tolerant. With infrastructure – hotels and other types – that stand out. With landscapes, monuments, history and culture that are unique in the world. With products, nutrition and gastronomy wholly synonymous with longevity. These are all our high cards. But do they suffice to sustain the spring of Greek tourism?

In my opinion, no. The above necessary but insufficient conditions need to be supplemented, mainly through the lessons that arise from international and European experience.

On a national level:

First, the powerful Greek tourism brand requires total political and administrative sufficiency in state support structures.

The geopolitical developments of recent months, the issues of travellers’ security, and rapidly shifting regulatory conditions have pointed up the urgent need for the existence of a General Staff for Tourism, which will make direct decisions on issues that impact tourism but are within the competency of other Ministries and state structures apart from that of Tourism. In EU countries where there are “national champions,” state support is direct, above and beyond the traditional disputes over competencies, signatures and sectoral domains. As we also saw recently with the refugee issue, on which the country undertook – with the generous support of the EU – major obligations in the name of Europe, in key sectors the state needs powerful and anti-bureaucratic management structures, not just administrative shells.

Second, the role of regional and local administration is of similar importance.

Local and regional administration have a lot to learn from European models of metropolitan cooperation that, on a foundation of consensus, build responses to issues such as waste management, regional planning and new forms of tourism. Often, the lack of a shared outlook among local and regional authorities, opportunistic political expediencies and localism end up competing with, if not undermining, the tourism product.

Resources, infrastructure, management of environmental burdens and local development priorities must be the object of mid- and long-term comprehensive planning on the part of local communities.

Third, the sweeping away of regulatory limitations and bureaucratic obstacles.

First of all, in many cases these exist to protect “insiders” to the detriment of “outsiders”. The principle of beati possidentes – blessed are the possessors – has no place in European thinking. And in tourism, as in other industries with a strong development dynamic, opportunities have to be given to newcomers as well, and not just maintain the privileges secured by current providers. Additionally, many of these regulatory obstacles arise from historical conditions that, while having been overcome in practice, remain in the legislation, reminding us of how easily something is enshrined through publication in the Government Gazette and of how difficult it is to simplify legislation and fight overregulation.

In conclusion, the further sustainable development of tourism on a national level must not be based exclusively on a positive state of affairs. Sustaining the tourism spring in our country requires administrative, political and local government support, social acceptance, utilization of European best practices, the experience of synergies and cooperation.

5. The role and contribution of the EU

For decades, the EU has played a primary role for modernization of the Greek economy and Tourism in particular.

On average, it annually contributes approximately 3% of the country’s GDP in structural assistance; in total, some €80 billion from 2000 until today.

For the current period, 2014-2020, a total budget of €25 billion has been earmarked for Greece for investments in various sectors in order to create jobs, increase the competitiveness of SMEs and protect the environment and natural resources.

In particular for tourism, in the period from 2007 to 2013 alone, €623 million was provided to fund specific tourism-related plans, like the archaeological museum of Iraklion, preservation of Acropolis monuments, landscaping of the Thessaloniki beach, and promotion of geotourism and enotourism schemes.

For the 2014-2020 period, €557 million has been earmarked for support of cultural and natural-beauty sites, with the aim of increasing the number of visitors and extending the tourism season.

Here, before this entrepreneurial audience, I would like to make special mention of the COSME programme, which aims to encourage entrepreneurial spirit in the promotion of the creation and growth of SMEs, including in the tourism sector. Thanks to the COSME programme, we have already moved ahead to the co-funding of agencies that promoted sustainable tourism products in Greece, contributing to the diversification of the tourism product.

Finally, as of last year, the Juncker Commission has added a new, innovative funding tool, the Juncker Investment Plan – worth a total of €315 billion – which is already producing tangible results through the leveraging of community resources with private investment capital.

The Juncker Plan concerns our country as well. But certain conditions have to be met; conditions being introduced for the first time in the field of community funding: First, overturning of the well-known subsidy mind-set model and its replacement with the principle of business risk. Second, a focus on sectors of the new economy, such as the environment, green energy, the digital economy, research and innovation – no longer a focus on asphalt and concrete. Third, the evaluation of investment plans based on their quality and adequacy, with no preset national, sectoral or geographical allocation of resources.

The Juncker Plan has already supported over €120 billion in investments in the real economy and created 150,000 jobs. In our country, five projects worth a total of €574 million have already been included. This is expected to spark a total of €1.2 billion in investments and support over 1,200 jobs. We’re still just starting out. There is much room for further investments, since just last month we announced the extension of the Juncker Plan to 2020, and with a doubling of its resources.

So behold a field of glory for all those who have innovative ideas and the will for investment initiatives. The Commission and the EIB have in fact established special advisory and support structures that are at the disposal of investors, so that their investment plans can be as well-drawn up as possible.

6. A hopeful, but not complacent, future

Dear Friends,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The future of Greek tourism looks positive, more than ever before in recent history. A number of developments are coming into alignment in the right dimension, creating a unique development ecosystem to further strengthen tourism.

Domestic tourism entrepreneurship is now in a position to secure demand from old and new markets, contributing to the substantial normalization of seasonality, which has been a key characteristic of the sector to date. Customer satisfaction by the service provider in Greek hotels is significantly higher than it is in internationally competitive destinations.

Improvement of the broader economic and business climate, entry into the Greek market of large business groups, substantial improvement of the business and organizational operation of small and medium-sized enterprises – along with, at long last, the imminent smooth progress of the privatization programme – are gradually creating a climate of security and predictability.

Support from national and European sources – on a structural, investment and regulatory level – adds points to our country’s competitive mix in this sector. When conditions ripen – and I believe that time is not far off – I hope that the current unwieldy tax participation of tourism in the effort to restore the economy will be reassessed so as not to jeopardize the source that generates wealth for the country and for the public sector.

Our unique natural and cultural beauty, as well as our country’s immutable and deep-rooted presence in all the forms of European and international integration (EU, NATO, Eurozone, Schengen) determines and multiplies the importance of our position in the world and the region.

In short, we have many – if not all – of the things our competitors are seeking to obtain.

The future is full of hope, but it doesn’t justify complacency.

Europe will stand by us firmly in support of our work, but the work has to be done here, in this land, by you yourselves. The hour of responsibility is now.

Thank you for your attention. 




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