Τhe regional governor of the South Aegean, George Hatzimarkos.
In the streets of Athens you can hear conversations in dozens of languages and the ferries destined for the famed and wonderful Cyclades island are already filled with visitors from all over the world. The National Herald spoke to the regional governor of the South Aegean, which comprises the Cyclades and Dodecanese island groups, about Greece’s remarkable tourism recovery.
The National Herald: If you count photographs and videos, more than any region – with all due respect to all of Greece’s wonderful places – the Cyclades, along with the Acropolis, can be said to be the face of Greek tourism. Tell us about last year and how things look this year.
George Hatzimarkos: Looking at the numbers for the south Aegean region, in 2021 we had more than 3 million visitors and over 22,000 international direct flights to our five international airports [which include]… Mykonos [and] Santorini. What is more important is that the Cyclades and Dodecanese earned the highest income per stay and total revenue. There are so many reasons to be proud of the previous season, as smaller islands achieved a season far better than even in 2019, which was one of the best in recent history. Last year 18 markets had performed better than 2019, with visitors from countries like Poland, France, Denmark appearing as very bright surprises. We also welcomed new markets that we did not have before, and our destinations stayed open until November 15, giving us a solid ground to build on for even bigger seasons in the future.
2022 seems even more dynamic and promising too. All signals – arrivals and bookings – promise a very prosperous season for the Cyclades… which by the way started this year sooner than ever before. In March and April the numbers were really high, particularly during Western and Orthodox Easter. We are very optimistic about 2022 and as we say in Greek “a good beginning brings a good ending.”
TNH: Tell us what is special about the island of the Cyclades.
GH: the Cyclades include very popular global tourist destinations and renowned brand names, led by Santorini, and Mykonos. There are also hidden gems, little dots on the Aegean Sea, an island complex of destinations of singular and transcendent beauty. They are so close to each other, yet so different, and they offer a feast of experiences, emotions, and thrills.
The contrasts… among the Cyclades, are their charm, and uniqueness is their identity. The list of the island’s attractions is endless: The renowned and glorious Greek light, clear waters, the local marble and stone, castles, forts, monasteries, and villages where time stands still, windmills, islets flooded with butterflies and sea sponges. There is also the gastronomic journey through the rich traditions and evolution of the Mediterranean diet. Countless beaches that allow you the luxury of endless choices are waiting for you, a variety of beaches ranging from calm and remote to cosmopolitan and full of action, just like the islands themselves.
Aegean islands are not only about sun and beautiful beaches, however, they are History. They are Culture. They are the footprints that each place has left along the European and world-historical path. This is a ‘path’ in time that is worth ‘walking’ for every visitor.
TNH: How are you promoting the tourism offerings?
GH: I believe that no other region has worked as hard as ours on building fame and putting out content on different topics. We have co-organized several European and international events and we also work very hard on culture, supporting big cultural events, from exhibitions to concerts to theatrical plays. We accommodate international film festivals, such as Anima Syros, which is one of the biggest events in the world for the animation industry. We also work very hard in the field of For 2019, we were the gastronomical capital of Europe, but we never stopped. After winning that title, we continued supporting the industry at the same pace, bringing out the local cuisine and promoting a network of restaurants under the name of ‘Aegean Cuisine’.
TNH: What programs do you have in place or are looking to expand to create an appreciation among visitors for the unique culture and heritage of the region?
GH: All the islands have multiple interesting sites, and a large number of renovations are taking place. We are always trying to invite and host prestigious cultural events. We have some very nice ancient theaters around the islands – a wonderful ancient theater in Kea, in a place called Korthi, and another theater that was recently renovated through European funding on the island of Milos.
TNH: In addition to infrastructure projects we are seeing the continued development of new hotels and resorts, and the purchase of villas through the Greek golden visa program for foreign investors. What would be your message about investment opportunities in the region to our international audience? Why are you optimistic about the region’s investment and growth potential?
GH: A main challenge around the islands is accessibility. In the last two years, during a quite challenging fiscal period, we had the best maritime connections in our history. Now we have started building a network of 28 sea planes and we want to introduce as soon as possible sea planes that will connect the islands with the mainland as well as with each other. The South Aegean region has made plans for 28 islands to have sea planes and there is significant interest from global airlines to be involved. We are also very optimistic that 18 months from now we will have the network up and running. Of course, we can have a few of them operating in 2022. There is also significant interest from other global funds to invest in our islands, mainly in tourism. However, owning real estate is also a very big opportunity around the islands. Infrastructure, public, and private projects are going to be a very big endeavor over the next three years.
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