A charm offensive with multiple benefits

Six protagonists of the recent Israel-Greece Conference explain to Kathimerini why this country is important to the Israelis

A charm offensive with multiple benefits

Tourism, real estate, defense, energy, environment and agrotechnology. These areas are increasingly the bilateral focus of Greece and Israel, creating prospects which could lead to a multiplier benefit for the Eastern Mediterranean and, ultimately, Europe.

The momentum was reflected in the first Israel-Greece Conference recently organized by Israel’s Calcalist newspaper in partnership with Brown Hotels. Held at Isla Brown Corinthia, the two-day event brought together senior government and financial officials from the two countries for social, business and professional meetups.

Six Israeli officials spoke to Kathimerini on the sidelines of the event on the future of geopolitical and in particular economic ties, explaining why Greece occupies a central position in Israel’s plans. The conclusion was that each country only stands to gain from the other.

Yoel Razvozov

Israeli minister of tourism

a-charm-offensive-with-multiple-benefits0Tourism numbers this year exceeded the experts’ expectations. Despite the pessimistic forecasts, after two hard years of a pandemic, people are eager to travel, to spend money, and to discover new destinations. In 2019, 150,000 Israelis visited Greece. In the opposite direction, 45,000 Greeks visited Israel. Now we are expanding cooperation in tourism between our countries and I definitely expect that those factors, along with our hard work, will lead to an increase in the number of tourists in both directions.

I found a great partner and friend in Greece, Vassilis Kikilias, the minister of tourism. On my visit to Greece this time, we discussed several ways to enhance our cooperation, such as academic exchanges, innovation in tourism, encouraging investments, and promoting joint marketing in target markets such as the US and the Far East. Tourism in Greece plays a very central role in the economy – it’s roughly 25% of your GDP – so I believe that we can learn from your knowledge and experience.

I believe that like everywhere else in the world, in Israel we also saw a decline in incoming tourism from Russia and Ukraine following the conflict. Nevertheless, in March this year 200,000 tourists visited Israel, so tourism is coming back. In order to fill this gap, we need to look for new markets and to explore new opportunities. For instance, the Abraham Accords and the new regional reality in the Middle East open up new possibilities for tourists, both regionally and globally.

Meni Weitzman

Real estate and tourism entrepreneur

a-charm-offensive-with-multiple-benefits2Greece has been through a tough time this past decade, but it nevertheless remains the most attractive country in the world as a tourism destination. It has marvelous weather, amazing cuisine, and unique locations and landscapes. And most importantly, it has generous, beautiful and wonderful people. These are the things that make Greece the top tourism destination.

Things have started changing following the election of the current prime minister, who put together an amazing team of government officials, graduates of Harvard and other top-flight universities. These are true Greek patriots who are here to help the people and society and to drive the economy forward. It is a pleasure working with them and they play an important role in Greece’s impending success. They understand that a quarter of Greece’s GDP comes from tourism and therefore put tourism at the front of the line.

What we are doing in Greece is a revolution, the likes of which the world has never seen before. We went to three of the unlikeliest areas – Omonia Square, Evia and Loutraki in Corinth – and invested heavily in many assets in these areas, bringing positive changes to their urban and socioeconomic conditions, and transforming them into attractive tourism destinations. We are also investing in Crete, Corfu and Thessaloniki, but the focus will be on Omonia, Evia and Loutraki.

Together with the European Union and the Greek government – who have given us so much support – we are investing in infrastructure to develop these areas, whether it is upgrading Omonia Square or the train from Athens and the airport to Loutraki. Evia, which has been badly damaged by fires recently, is equally important to us and we are investing in developing hotels there.

Calcalist and Chief Executive Eyal Peer have understood that there is a warm and growing relationship between Greece and Israel, and we need to thank them for cultivating this relationship. There is so much love and compassion between our two countries, and the people at Calcalist realized this and decided to organize this conference, in a bid to cultivate the bonds between the two nations even further.

Leon Avigad

Founder and co-owner of Brown Hotels

a-charm-offensive-with-multiple-benefits4We are moving forward, full speed ahead, based on our current plan, which includes the opening of new hotels within the year and even more in 2023. At the same time, we continue to consider new possible agreements, seeing even more destinations on the islands and mainland Greece. I want to emphasize that we are very happy with the new investments made by other big players, moves that maintain and strengthen our faith in the Greek market.

All of us today, after these two difficult years of the pandemic, look forward to boarding a plane, traveling to a holiday destination, and enjoying the sun. And what better place can one think of than Greece? Israelis are not the only ones looking for beautiful beaches, historic sites, gastronomic delights. Elements like these compose unique travel experiences tailored to every wallet. The growth margins are large and our forecasts are very optimistic!

Cobi Bitton

Israel-Greece Chamber of Commerce CEO

a-charm-offensive-with-multiple-benefits6The deepening of Greek-Israeli relations is based on the major potential for mutually beneficial cooperation in a number of sectors, including economy, trade, tourism, investments, agricultural development, defense, technology, energy, environment, shipping and education.

The manifold cooperation between the two countries is aimed at promoting development and stability in the Eastern Mediterranean. This cooperation does not exclude and is not directed against any third party, while it is dictated by the multiple security challenges in the region.

Regular political consultations take place between the two ministries of foreign affairs.

Greece looks forward to the development of energy cooperation with Israel, both bilaterally and trilaterally, with the inclusion of Cyprus.

In the trilateral context, the three countries have expressed their readiness to develop their cooperation at all levels.

The countries inked agreements on several key economy-boosting areas, including energy, innovation, maritime transport, marine technologies, security, trade and tourism.

While building on ties with Israel and the United States, Greece’s fast-growing energy sector is playing a key role in its active foreign diplomacy. These ties are helping Greece survive its tough economic times while also boosting its role in the region.

Finally, special note should be made of the Greek state’s unflagging interest in the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which is the living link between Orthodox Christianity and the Holy Land.

It is too early to assess the durability of the impacts of the war in Ukraine on the region and specifically on the bilateral relationship of Greece and Israel. But if Russia’s marginalization persists and if the European states most concerned with the future of this region do not seize this opportunity to re-engage, it is possible that China will take advantage of it to advance its pawns all over the place, thus improving its position vis-a-vis the United States, provided that it has not also embarked on a military adventure. One thing seems certain: The Arab world, Turkey, Iran and Israel are watching with the utmost attention how the European Union and NATO will position themselves and manage the post-conflict situation when it arises. Any sign of weakness or pusillanimity will then be paid for dearly and in cash.

Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin

Israel Export Institute chairperson

a-charm-offensive-with-multiple-benefits8Trade relations are still falling short in comparison to the strategic relationship built between both countries. No doubt in tourism ties are strong and most definitely in the security sector – led by both governments.

Even in tourism there is much to be achieved, as for the time being it is mostly import – tourists coming from Israel to Greece and less the other way around. We hope some investments in that direction will enhance and attract Greeks to travel to Israel.

Two sectors though are becoming more and more relevant looking at exports from Israel to Greece. The first is renewable energy. Several Israeli companies have already initiated projects in Greece and I hope the conference will provide a chance for Israeli companies to also connect with local companies and proceed in joint ventures.

Another sector in which there is growing relevance in which Israel is a global player is water and ag-tech. Greek agriculture can benefit from Israeli technologies which provide opportunities for the local industry to be more efficient. On that note, food tech is also of growing interest due to the world’s changing situation – mainly climate but not only. Greek food industries which are leading in quality can enjoy our technologies to go to the next level and produce accordingly.

The Israel Export Institute enjoys close ties with the Greek government and we quite often host ministers, high-level officials as well as Greek companies. We are giving them a close overview of the sectors and do our best to connect them with the relevant Israeli companies.

Yoel Esteron

Calcalist publisher

a-charm-offensive-with-multiple-benefits10Ιt’s part of our vision and mission to bring together Israeli business leaders and international business leaders around the world. Calcalist has held hundreds of conferences and meetups in Tel Aviv, New York, London, Berlin and recently Dubai.

As we saw the incredible recovery of the Greek economy, we felt it was time to come to Athens and explore the many opportunities for collaboration between Israel and Greece.

There is so much to be done to strengthen the business and culture ties between our two nations.

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