Extracts from Yesterday's Daily Telegraph. By Oliver Smith
Are traditional Greek holidays under threat?
Greece plans to attract an additional 9 million tourists annually by 2021 - but what does that mean for the unspoiled island life that lures so many Britons?
The tourist board claimed too that early signs indicate 2015 could be another record year
A record 15.3 million holidaymakers visited Greece in the first eight months of the year, with arrivals from Britain rising 16 per cent, according to the country’s tourist board.
This was a 22 per cent increase on 2013, a year in which Greece had already improved significantly on the losses felt in 2012 following the Arab Spring, receiving a total of 17.9 million arrivals.
The tourist board claimed too that early signs indicate 2015 could be another record year.
And there’s no evidence that the country is resting on its laurels. The Association of Hellenic Tourism Enterprises recently said it expects at least 27 million to take a holiday in Greece each year by 2021, up from around 18 million in 2013.
Olga Kefalogianni, the Greek minister for tourism, suggested the country’s continuing popularity is down to the value for money it offers to both budget and high-end holidaymakers.
Licenses awarded for new accommodation have risen by up to 150 per cent, with an emphasis on luxury properties. There are also plans to increase the frequency of flights to smaller islands, and even - overambitious, perhaps - talk of a “gastro-taverna” culinary revolution.
Such plans are likely to raise fears that the unspoiled island life that attracts so many Britons to Greece is under threat. For many, it is rustic accommodation and simple cuisine that make the country so alluring.
These worries are unfounded, according to Ms Kefalogianni.
“This is a major consideration for us – our strategy is towards sustainability,” she said. “The natural environment and the culture should be maintained and preserved. This is what brings tourists to Greece.”
Instead, she wants to encourage holidaymakers to visit lesser-known parts of the country, and for Greece to be considered more of a year-round destination.
“We want to expand our offering to new parts of Greece, such as the mountainous area in the north – it’s not just about sea and sun,” she added. “There’s also the recent discovery of ancient artefacts at Amfipolis, which will attract new visitors to that region.”
Thessaloniki is being touted as an alternative city break destination (“a history spanning 2,300 years, a burgeoning food scene and a vibrant nightlife”), and base for exploring Amfipolis, the Halkidiki peninsula and Lake Kerkini, a haven for birdwatching and outdoor activities such as canoeing and riding.
The “beautiful, well preserved” region of Epirus, meanwhile, has also been earmarked. It is “one of the most exciting destinations for adventurous walkers and hikers,” says Ms Kefalogianni, and is bisected by the world’s deepest gorge.
And for those in search of a more recumbent holiday, the Pelion – between Athens and Thessaloniki; the Peloponnese – the southernmost part of mainland Greece; and the Small Cyclades – a sub-group of the Cyclades (which include Santorini and Mykonos), all of which are known for their beaches, are being targeted for growth.
Interest in Greece’s cultural attractions remains strong. Visits to museums leapt 20 per cent between January and June, compared with the same period last year, according to the tourist board. That included a 20 per cent rise in visits to the Acropolis Museum; 14 per cent to the National Archaeological Museum; and 95 per cent to Heraklion Archeological Museum. To further entice classical enthusiasts, there are plans to extend opening hours at dozens of museums and archaeological sites and develop smartphone apps to provide information to visitors.