Inspections are not enough, says Tourism Minister
By Stathis Kousounis
US, Chinese and Canadian funds have expressed interest in tourism investments in Greece, Tourism Minister Olga Kefalogianni tells Kathimerini in an interview. She further notes that large hotel groups appear keen to establish a presence in the popular Mediterranean destination, citing the example of Four Seasons.
Kefalogianni stresses that she has issued directives for frequent spot checks to be conducted at privately owned holiday homes that are put up for short-term lease, saying that the inspections are already paying off in the form of fines, which can be as high as 50,000 euros if the proprietors have failed to register their property as tourist accommodation and have not been issued the special certificate that allows them to lease it as such.
The minister also tells Kathimerini that progress is being made with clearing a heavy backlog of violations by tourism businesses that has built up over the years at the ministry, adding that fines of 2.2 million euros have been issued so far.
She is adamant that violations which mar Greece’s reputation as a destination should be severely punished.
Given the positive outlook for this year’s tourism figures, how is the ministry preparing for 2015?
The most recent law [regulating the tourism market] passed by Parliament represents the last in a slew of important reforms for the radical overhaul of the tourism product. With the implementation of our strategy, we aim to extend the tourist season, something that is a particular challenge for the Greek market. The messages we have received from our contacts with the global market make us optimistic, but they are not enough. We are preparing for the big international expos, starting with London in November, where we will present significant new initiatives for 2015.
How does the new law affect tourism businesses?
Institutional interventions have helped us develop an extremely friendly investment environment. We have simplified the regulations for tourist accommodation, developed thematic tourism and strengthened existing regulations governing tourism infrastructure. Wine tourism and agritourism are prime examples. We have provided the tools and incentives to private initiatives and I am certain that these will be used for the growth of the sector.
Can you tell us about any of the foreign groups that have told you about their interest in investing in Greece? If so, what is the Greek side doing to make them put their money here?
There is a great deal of interest from important groups, such as Four Seasons. Meanwhile, American, Chinese and Canadian funds have expressed an interest in investing in Greece and this points to the high caliber of Greek tourism. The one-stop shop and other reductions in red tape are already yielding positive results.
What measures is the ministry taking to tackle the gray economy in the tourism sector?
The process for private residences to acquire licenses to operate as tourism accommodation is modeled on a form which is already recognized internationally as one of good practice.
Hundreds of certificates are issued every month. We have issued succinct directives to all the services to conduct constant on-site checks. We have also accelerated the process of collecting fines worth 2.2 million euros from hundreds of cases that have sat at the ministry for years.
But I would like to stress that inspections alone are not enough. The most important thing is to cultivate a good work ethic among all the people involved in tourism. We must finally reach a stage of maturity.