HATTA wants speedier Schengen Treaty visas

Yiannis Valinakis, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, and Anastassios Liaskos, his counterpart in Tourism, are expected to meet on Wednesday to discuss ways of faster visa issuance by Greek consulates abroad according to Schengen Treaty provisions. The issue has been a standing demand by Greek tour operators and hoteliers, since delays in the granting of visas have consequences on the Greek tourist industry. The Hellenic Association of Tourism and Travel Agencies (HATTA) and the Attica Hoteliers’ Association organized a conference last week to consider the problem and discuss possible solutions. Participants referred to a number of examples characteristic of the consequences of visa issuance delays. They noted the fact that a number of charter flights to Greece from Ukraine between April 28 and 30, 2004, were canceled, when during the same period, there were 25 such flights from Kiev to the Turkish resort of Antalya. They also pointed that Finland issues visas to Chinese tourists without delays and complex procedures, as long as they travel to the country on the national carrier, Finnair; this has led to more than 40,000 Chinese visiting Scandinavia by the end of 2003. China is fast developing into an important market from which to attract tourists to Europe. The Chinese government is committed to ending travel restrictions for its citizens to 27 European countries, including Greece, as of September 1. Greek tour operators note that there is no Greek consulate in Shanghai and that the Greek Embassy in Beijing employs just two people for the issuance of visas, while the Irish Consulate has eight and Germany’s no less than 100. The number of Chinese visitors abroad grew at an average annual rate of 13.87 percent from 1994 to 2003, reaching 20.2 million last year, surpassing for the first time the number of Japanese international tourists. HATTA made a number of proposals for the solution of the visa issuance problems. They include the immediate, online connection of Greek consulates with the main automated Schengen system in order to get immediate security checks on people applying for visas. Presently, Greek consulates have to wait for approval from the Greek authorities, with two ministries in Athens having to endorse the request. The Greek tourism market professionals also note that the official documents required for the issuance of visas, such as is the case for Russians, are too complex and that, in fact, they lead to the offering of «services» by people who make money «assisting» visa applicants to overcome the bureaucracy. They also note that in many cases, Russians who arrive in Greece with visas are turned back at the airport without explanation, and insist that, as a rule, visas should be issued within 48 hours after the receipt of the application by Greek consulates. In the case of countries with larger populations, such as China, the Greek tour operators propose that tourist groups enter Greece by simply presenting the airport police with a list of travelers, with the same list being presented upon leaving the country.