Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ remarks during the discussion with the former President of ETC Luis Araujo, in the framework of the forum “EU Tourism: resilience in the Era of the Climate Crisis” in Rhodes

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis participated on Monday evening in a discussion with Luis Araujo, former President of the European Travel Commission, an organisation which promotes Europe as a tourist destination, in the framework of the forum “EU Tourism: resilience in the Era of the Climate Crisis”, hosted in Rhodes. The Prime Minister’s statements follow:

“I’m very happy that this event takes place on the island of Rhodes because we all remember very well that Rhodes was hit very hard last summer by a very substantial wildfire, but it also managed to recover incredibly quickly. I think this is testimony not just to the reaction of the state, the central state, the regional government, the municipality, but also testimony to the way the tourism industry and the community of Rhodes came together to support visitors during those very difficult times and to essentially use this crisis almost as an opportunity to rebrand the island as a resilient island. I think this is a very, very important topic”, noted the Prime Minister in his introductory statement.

More than €2 billion for civil protection

Referring to the challenges of climate change and the measures taken by Greece, the Prime Minister stated: “The Mediterranean as a whole is a hotspot for climate change. This means that statistically, we will have more wildfires, we will probably have more floods. In general, we will have more extreme events. Of course, we know that these natural disasters will occur with increased frequency, which means that we need to strengthen our overall civil protection mechanism. We are investing as a country more than 2 billion in civil protection”.

“The number one priority is always the protection of human lives. The No1 priority is to make sure that you can actually evacuate people safely. This is exactly what we did last summer. It was not easy. I think all the stakeholders remember very well how difficult it was in complicated conditions to evacuate 25,000 visitors, but we did so safely. We’re very proud of the fact that we managed to address the crisis with essentially no loss of human life”.

Greece as a ‘laboratory’ for best practices

Regarding the innovative circular economy solutions implemented in Greece and his aspiration for Greek tourism, the Prime Minister underlined: “What we want to do is to ensure that Greece is a ‘laboratory’ for best practices. Sometimes best practices start small and then they can actually spread. Sometimes best practices, again, are not just related to CO₂, because when we talk about the resilience of our tourism industry, this is also related, for example, to the protection of our marine biodiversity.

I am saying this because next week we will have a big global conference in Greece, ‘Our Ocean Conference’, where we are looking also to the private sector to make specific commitments and specific pledges regarding how we can protect our marine biodiversity.

Circular economy: I just came back from the small island of Tilos. Some of you may not even know it. It’s very close to Rhodes. But what’s happening on Tilos is remarkable. You have a small island -maybe 700, 800 permanent residents but many more during the summer-, that essentially has reached 90% recycling with a strong engagement of the local community, with all the partners from the hotel industry, the hotel operators, the tavern operators, small businesses actually partnering to create something which is remarkable. There is no landfill on Tilos. Essentially, everything is turned into recyclable material or compost or a non-recyclable material that is then transported to be burned”.

Our goal is fair development- To ensure good wages in tourism

On the role of local communities in achieving climate goals and the importance of fair development, the Prime Minister stated: “For everything, you need stakeholder engagement, so you need the private sector on board, and you need the local communities on board. Otherwise, it just won’t happen. You cannot meet your climate targets without having the population on board.

At the end of the day, this is about creating more wealth, this is what growth is all about. Our job is that this wealth is spread in an equitable manner. This, for example, means in the case of Rhodes, to ensure the most basic parameter, that the hotel owners or operators pay good wages. To make sure that labour legislation is respected and to ensure the ability of the regional associations to strike their own collective bargaining deals”.

Our concern is to ensure that there is no overbuilding

Regarding the contribution of the tourism sector to the reduction of pollutants and the developments in visitors’ preference for “green” destinations, Kyriakos Mitsotakis noted: “We all need to do our part to lower our emissions and to decarbonize. Customer preferences are changing. Customers will look into how ‘green’ or how environmentally sensitive the service providers actually are.

Of course, the government also has a role to encourage the private sector to do so by doing various things. We can have incentives, and we have numerous, for example, incentives regarding renovation. When we look at, for example, our sustainability and our resilience, one of my main concerns is, how do we make sure that we don’t overbuild, especially in islands or regions of Greece which have not suffered from the consequences of a development that takes place too fast. It is much better to retrofit an existing structure than to build a new one”.

“It’s not just about the headline GDP growth. Sometimes, yes, there may be policy areas where instead of pressing the accelerator, we may have to press the brake pedal, especially when it comes to how we build in environments which we need to protect in the long term. For example, one of the biggest reforms we are implementing in Greece is that for the first time we have local building and zoning plans for every single municipality in Greece, for every single island, because that in the past did not exist to the extent that we wanted. We want to move away from big horizontal rules”.

Strengthening and extending the tourist season with new, unique experiences

On the question, how the government plans to contribute to the extension of the tourist season and the model of tourism development, Kyriakos Mitsotakis said: “This is probably one of the biggest challenges. To extend the season means you spread tourists out over more months. Hotels work for eight or nine months instead of six. The same is true for restaurants and all the service providers. We think hard about the experiences one can offer people who would come in what they would consider off-season. I can tell you that in Greece, more of that is happening. The season is starting earlier, it’s finishing later.

If you look at our city destinations, for example, Athens has become a year-round destination, not constrained or not dependent by the fact that people always thought in the past that they wanted to come to Greece in the summer”.

“Greece already now is attracting more than 30 million, 32 million visitors a year. Again, it’s not about the numbers. At the end of the day, it’s about how much people spend in Greece. You could envision a future where you have fewer tourists spending more, and maybe it would be economically, certainly environmentally, better off.

In terms of extending the season, this is about new experiences. Not enough people come to Greece for what Greece has to offer culturally. Most people come for the beach and for the summer experience. We can do much more in terms of developing our cultural heritage and connecting it to our tourism product by offering integrated experiences. If tourism is about unique experiences, there is a lot Greece can do.

Of course, I would like to highlight that Greece, continental Greece has lovely mountains. Very few people know about them, but more people are discovering them. Winter tourism, summer tourism in our mountains, hiking, getting in touch with local cuisines and local culture, and experiencing the variety of Greece is offering us new possibilities to diversify our product”.

“I think we’re scratching the surface of what Greece can do in terms of more specialised forms of tourism. One of the big priorities of the Ministry in charge is to send a signal to visitors that there’s so many other things you can do in Greece beyond what you know you can do in Greece and you can have a great time”.

The European elections are important elections for our common future

Asked about the importance of the upcoming elections for the European Parliament, Kyriakos Mitsotakis stressed: “I think we have to explain to people that what happens in Brussels or in Strasbourg, in Europe, in the European institutions, actually matters for them.

I think we need to explain to people in simple terms why electing serious people to the next European Parliament matters, why the green transition matters, but why the pace of the green transition also matters, because, at the end of the day, we cannot impose burdens on small, medium-sized enterprises or on our farmers that are so substantial that they will have a real problem meeting them in the short term”.

“My plea for the European elections is always the same. We have a rise of populism everywhere in Europe. We’ve had our own experience with populism in Greece, and it didn’t go very well for the country. That’s one of the reasons why we were elected to power back in 2019 and re-elected with a bigger share of the vote in 2023. So electing competent people and voting for serious parties that can actually offer real solutions to real problems matters, and it matters in the European elections as much as it matters in the national elections. At the end of the day, these are important elections for our common future”.

Greece, the best destination in the world

Finally, in response to a question on how he sees Greece as a tourist destination in 10 years and how he wants it to be perceived by those who visit or want to visit, the Prime Minister underlined: “as the best destination in the world”