The island of Crete is one of the most remarkable places on Earth, and while it is one of the most famous islands in history, outside Greece and except for the renowned archaeological site of Knossos, there remains a wonderful story to be told about its natural and man-made offerings. In addition to showcasing the creations of the past, Crete has also been building for the future. Stavros Arnaoutakis, the Regional Governor for Crete, spoke to us both about what visitors will enjoy today – and what the Region of Crete is doing to secure a prosperous and sustainable future.
The National Herald: Tell us about the riches Crete offers its visitors, body, mind, and soul.
Stavros Arnaoutakis: Tourism in Crete is intertwined with authenticity: courtesy, hospitality, respect for the visitor, high quality services, responsibility. And then there are the images, flavors, aromas, experiences. The authenticity is the foundation of the lasting values that secure Crete’s place on top of the world tourist destinations lists. By combining their visit to Greece with a visit to Crete, Greeks who live in America will experience unique moments, as they walk along the sites of the Minoan civilization or enjoy the comfort of the facilities and infrastructure of a modern tourist destination.
TNH: Please tell us the latest about how the pandemic is affecting Crete and how it looks for the next few months and the summer.
SA: Having experienced the health crisis for two years, we now know all about its visible and invisible aspects. First, we understand its detrimental effects on the whole spectrum of productive, economic, and social activity. Today, with the knowledge and experience we have gained, it is certain that we no longer steer through uncharted waters. We have learned more about the coronavirus. Most importantly, we know what to do until we win the final battle. In the field of tourism, Crete maintains a strong advantage, since it remains an attractive and safe destination, which adds more value to the destination itself. What is certain is that the current tourist season will be complex, a fact that leaves no room for easy estimates. Nevertheless, we remain optimistic, despite the dramatic developments in Eastern Europe. The major tourist markets for Crete are mainly those of the Western European countries. Taking that into consideration, we believe that this year the tourist influx to Crete will reach quite satisfactory levels.
TNH: For those who visited Crete many years ago, what is new that they should know about, including new resorts?
SA: In recent years, the tourist infrastructure in Crete has been upgraded at a fast pace. New hotels are being built from one end of the island to the other. State-of-art facilities and infrastructure for those who want to combine their holidays with their favorite sports, or for those who want to have a complete tourist experience at the facilities of large hotel resorts, make Crete an option full of pleasant surprises.
TNH: While the Pandemic has slowed down many activities, some projects have been moving forward. Tell us about the state of your important infrastructure projects.
SA: By investing in the comparative advantages of our island, we have been tackling pending issues from the past. Thus, we establish the conditions that will allow us to approach the growth rates of advanced European societies. Right now, the process for the construction of a modern and safe highway that will extend from Kissamos to Sitia is steadily progressing. That project is our main priority. With the construction of this highway, Crete address issues from the past and will look towards the future while standing on more solid foundations. At the same time, the construction works of the new International Airport in Kastelli are progressing, a fact that will decisively upgrade Crete on the world map of aviation. At the same time, in collaboration with local stakeholders, we are trying to improve the ports of Crete, so that the island becomes a home port for cruise tourism.
TNH: We know these are important for the region – why are they important for tourists and Greek Americans?
SA: Through infrastructure projects we blaze new trails. Our political agenda is enriched with long-term projects, which are important both for the locals and for the visitors of Crete. An island that upgrades its infrastructure remains an attractive and safe destination for those who plan their vacation in this place.
TNH: Tell us about the latest private investments and developments, and future and possible investments?
SA: The Region of Crete brings together all those characteristics that make it a potential player in the field of investments. The geographical location of the island, its characteristics as a gateway to Southern Europe, investments in energy and renewable sources, as well as investments in tourism and transportation that are and will be important pillars for Crete in the years to come.
TNH: What is your vision for private and government projects in Crete?
SA: The institution of the Region is called to function as a multifaceted ‘development laboratory’. That is why we must make it clear that today, more than ever, investing in the Region is not just a regional policy, but the only sustainable national development policy. Regional development presupposes new kind of governance – decentralization, participation, and consultation are the cornerstones of such governance.
Crete’s ‘encounter with development’ can only take place in the arena of long-standing issues, current challenges, and opportunities. To this end, the Region has specific and creative proposals to offer. Our goal is to embody the great reversal of past policy, to establish and implement a new production and development model. Our ambition is to make Crete a model European region.
TNH: How is the investment atmosphere changing or improving, what reforms and incentives are planned or underway?
SA: Investment incentives for the private sector are a bet that we must win with joint forces. For our part as representatives of the Region of Crete, we emphasize that the reduction of bureaucracy is an issue that needs to be improved in the present, as it will affect the future course of the island’s development. Within the framework of our responsibilities, we promote every initiative aimed at improving the investment environment.