His Excellency Panos Kalogeropoulos, Ambassador of Greece believes that his nation’s offerings like ‘joy of life’, cuisines, culture and Mediterranean bounties have plenty in them to attract the discerning Indian outbound. In a maiden outreach, he hoped to leverage on the fact that Greece had yet remained unexplored for a vast majority of Indians. Excerpts of a detailed interaction:
“I often meet people who tell me that they have been to Greece and it is a lovely county. But, it is still a drop in the ocean when you look at Indian outbound from here,” said the Ambassador.
It is true that Greece has been a part of the Indian sub-conscience since Alexander the Great’s daring march – some twenty four hundred years ago – to the borders of then Punjab. There is a direct or indirect reference to it in our daily conversation, in our folk-lore and collective history. But, all of these linkages, sadly, have not contributed to bilateral footfalls. Also, Indian travellers have found resonance, more, with Britain, France, Italy and Spain, off late.
Greek economy, too, has not been at its best. Commenting on the situation, the Ambassador said that the key was to infuse a sense of confidence in real economic activities. “Greece has finally averted Grexit. Nobody talks about that anymore. I would stress that a sense of confidence in the economy would help,” he said.
Informing that Greece catered to over twenty five million visitors in 2015, he said that economy generated from tourism accounted for over eighteen billion Euros. “We received over two million visitors only from Russia in 2015,” he added. In comparison, outbound from India (including from abroad) constituted to .02 percent of the total Greek inbound in 2015.
Noting that he intended to address this issue, he said that Greece would want more young Indians to come visit it as a destination, maybe, together with more traditional destinations like France, United Kingdom and Italy, or separately.
“Greece offers a unique combination of natural beauty and rich cultural heritage; it is not always the case. Moreover, nature, to a very large extent, is unspoilt. Our beaches are among the cleanest in the entire Mediterranean. The climate Greece enjoys is unrivalled; perhaps, three hundred days of sunshine, clear blue skies and clean atmosphere,” detailed the top envoy.
Stressing on facets like rich cultural heritage, he added that the recall value remained intact on ancient times and days of Alexander the great. “Their presence echoes everywhere. But, there are also a number of monuments and churches from the middle ages and Byzantine Empire days. These intermingle beautiful with the modern Greece – days after independence in 1821,” he elaborated.
He called landscape, culture’, joy of life’ and vibrant nightlife USPs that Greece enjoyed. “Vibrant nightlife is something that young Indians will take to, and it is one of the things that we want to tell our audiences,” he noted. On the question of areas that he believed could lead to larger bilateral cooperation between two countries, resulting in pronounced movement of people and services, he outlined “we try to engage in areas of economy and scientific exchanges. It is our endeavour, but it goes for both nations. It must find echo on the Indian side.”
“So, we invite Indians to come to Greece by the same route Alexander took two thousand five hundred years ago, only in the opposite direction,” he added on a lighter note.
Responding to the idea of deeper foray into Indian market with a representative office, he said that it was great suggestion and would take away much of the responsibility of promotion from his shoulders. However, in a sincere admission, he informed that with the current state of public finance in Greece, he did not see the room for opening a separate and autonomous tourism organization.
Sighting examples of once operational offices of Air-France, Lufthansa, Air Kuwait and Air Delta, he said “these brick-and-mortar representation offices, like the ones of air companies, fade away. It was different twenty-thirty years ago. As a matter of fact, it is no more important in the age of internet.”
Greece tourism had focused on internet audience – which is a key part of their campaign. Elaborating, the Ambassador said, “It is for the first time we have tried that in India; we have come up with a video, on facets of Greece tourism, on YouTube. It is an interesting experiment which should succeed.”
He banked his confidence on high number of internet users and penetration of internet deep into India’s smaller towns and hamlets. “It is, especially, an advanced country, concerning the use of internet. Also, Indians have a special ability of being able to think in terms of new technologies,” said the seasoned diplomat.
In a bid to improve ease of travel, the embassy had launched a campaign, two years ago, to ensure tourist visa within forty-eight hours of application. “We work very hard to stay faithful to that commitment. I think visa issue comes up only in cases when we have to, during peak seasons, process hundreds of visa application. We try to process as many as humanly possible,” he commented.
Hoping the interaction would give rise to more activities and engagements, not only in Delhi, but elsewhere, too, the Ambassador added that once number improved, he would, also, look into the issue of direct air-connectivity. “I understand that it is an issue. But, numbers have to be substantial enough to make commercially flying viable,” he argued.
Realistic change of direct air-connectivity when substantial tourist influx is achieved
By the end of July, Greece is gearing up to host a major congregation hosted by Indian spiritual guru, Bapu Morari. It is expected to be attended by over twelve hundred people. “It is a spiritual gathering and a large number of people are expected to attend,” the Ambassador shared. Informing that the event would span for a week, he highlighted the possibilities of such events in increasing footfalls into Greece, he said “we have mobilized all resources through our various consulates. Besides, we have also been in touch with the Indian embassy.”
Further substantiating, he added that the reason why Greece was chosen for this congregation was because of it being a vast repository of culture and heritage, which had a similarity to the Indian culture. “I concur with the decision to hold the event in Greece. Our teachings coincide with Hindu mysticism and school of thought,” he said, drawing a parallel between Indian and Greek philosophy and ideals.
Spiritual and philosophical concurrence aside, Greece happens to host the world’s largest fair on shipping, held bi-annually. The Ambassador, on the question of larger areas of bilateral connect, he said “Posidonia, the fair, is attended by many countries around the world. Now that India has recently held a Maritime Summit in Mumbai, it presents with itself opportunities of collaborations,” said the envoy.
Taking the opportunity to dispel a long prevalent notion that Mediterranean cuisines had very little to offer to a large majority of vegetarian food preferring Indians, the Ambassador was quick to add that “I am aware that Indians, as travellers, are considered very sensitive about their food preferences. But, this notion of Mediterranean cuisines being heavy and predominantly non-vegetarian needs to be addresses. It is based, largely, on vegetables and Olive oil; it is very healthy and advocated by, even, cardiologists.”
The Ambassador noted that the Greek way of life was aptly suited for Indians. However, a major lacuna in the attempt to boost exchange remained the lack of direct air-connectivity. Currently, Athens and other Greek cities are serviced through middle-eastern hubs. It also remains a fact that realistic air-connectivity stems out of acquiring adequate load-factors for airlines. Once, Greece manages to capture the attention of Indian outbound, which it should, as its offerings are unique compared to other continental European nations, there is a realistic possibility of direct connection between two ancient nations, we were told.