Government aims to court visa-shy tourists

A joint initiative by Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas and Culture and Tourism Minister Pavlos Geroulanos aims to boost the flow of tourists into the debt-ridden country by facilitating the visa issuing process for citizens of certain «emerging markets» including China, India, Russia, Ukraine and Turkey.

Droutsas and Geroulanos said on Monday that they had decided to set up a working group comprising officials from both ministries to work toward breaking down the barriers hindering thousands of tourists from visiting Greece, which has always relied heavily on tourism revenue and is currently in more desperate need of foreign visitors than ever.

The aim of the initiative is to change the country’s image as one of being particularly strict in issuing tourist visas to foreign nationals. Ministry officials are to cooperate more closely with staff at the Greek consulates of the countries in question and «visa centers» will be set up in cities where there are no consulates. The staff at these centers will gather all the necessary documents for those interested in getting tourist visas and will cooperate with staff at the country’s Greek consulate.

Ministry officials have also been instructed to boost their cooperation with large travel agencies in those countries, particularly during the peak summer season when the agencies will be able to help gather the necessary documentation from their clients and pass it on to the consulate or visa center.

According to industry officials in Greece, tourist arrivals saw a slight increase in 2010 despite the economic crisis, with particular interest from Turkey and Israel. There has been a marked increase in interest from Israeli tourists since that country’s ties with Turkey soured following a fatal raid by Israeli commandos on an aid flotilla heading for Gaza last May.

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