An Interview with Vicky Loizou, Secretary General for Tourism Policy and Development
Iphigenie Moraitini Patriarchea
Let’s talk about you as a person…
- Ministry of Defense, of Education, of Development, and of tourism. All these Greek institutions have one thing in common – you! Can you tell us about your past work, and your intentions in moving between these positions?
By the sound of it, it may seem strange, but there is the same pattern more or less. I studied Political Science and International Studies with a master’s degree on EU policies and administration and this helps me navigate among the common ground of all the Ministries. In fact, I feel really lucky that I had the opportunity to actually work on what I have studied. During my tenure at the Ministry of Defence I had the opportunity to work with the EU sphere because Greece has held the presidency of EU for a whole year after the Danish opted out. I had the opportunity to see in practice everything I had studied and was given a dual role: participate in the strategy team and be the spokesperson for the foreign media. By the end of that time, I participated in a competition for a position at a state company created as an MoU between Greece and the EU for the management of the EU funds. When I passed the exams, I was appointed at the Special Service for the management of the EU Funds at the Ministry of Education. So it was still the EU, the strategy and the communication component that drove these 5 years… and then Kostis Hatzidakis came along and asked me to work with him when he was appointed Minister for Development to prepare the strategy for the development of the country for the next years; and it was the Financial Assistance programme years for Greece, so International negotiations skills from my Masters’ degree together with good knowledge of EU functions drove him to make me responsible for the negotiations with Troika on all the necessary reforms. So it was a dual role, I had to work together with World bank and OECD to coordinate projects that would lead to necessary reforms that we wanted for the country and at the same time dealing with requests of the Troika like austerity (reforms need investments so sometimes seemed to be controversial). Back then the ministry of Development was responsible for all sectors of development, from EU funds, commerce, industry, transport, networks, infrastructure to private investments so it was a really demanding job but also a school for me. This “Troika experience” and all the different subjects I was dealing with helped me have a holistic approach of the administration and the way the economy really works. As soon as Kyriakos Mitsotakis became Prime Minister, he appointed me as General Secretary for the Coordination of all the economic and growth policies of the government so I had to deal again with the ministries of Development, Infrastructure and Transport, but also, Finance, Energy and Environment, Maritime Affairs, Agriculture, Tourism, Culture and Foreign affairs for the Economic diplomacy… Following the policies of 9 Ministries and the new model of coordination was really a challenge. Last in the list but not least, the Ministry of Tourism was a challenge during the Covid crisis and a ministry with so many co-competencies with other ministries, so the experience from the Ministry of Development and the Coordination secretariat was valuable and came in handy.
- What, if any, would you consider your proudest and most underappreciated achievement in the past, and then in your current position?
Thank you for that question! I will choose an achievement which to my eyes is the biggest but something most people do not know about me. In 2004 I lost my parents in a car accident, it was a Monday at noon. It was really devastating… the problem was that my whole world had been destroyed. Apart from losing my parents I had to deal with my father’s personal company, his business loans and to work to complete the works he was responsible for as he was a constructor… at the same time my mother had a small company on the island of Mykonos. Grieving and at the same time dealing with businesses was a really demanding experience and I am really proud we made it (me and my brother) because otherwise we would have sold our houses to pay for the debt. It was a big school for me and a compass when planning policies later…
From my current position, I would say my work on the Marinas… the reforms and the RRF program I have planned. It seemed strange to me that Greece being a country with that a big coastline and all those islands was not developed in the area of proper services provision in the tourist ports, especially while having so competitive neighbors that offer high quality services and have a more sophisticated maritime tourism product.
- I may have shamelessly stalked you on LinkedIn, where you state you speak English, French, Italian and Turkish. Given the historical love-hate relationship between Greece and Turkey, this is an interesting and impressive skill! How did you choose to learn the language, and what use do you make of it? Let’s talk about Tourism and Strategy…
As I said before, I studied Political Sciences and International Studies, with a Master’s Degree on European Policies, where I dealt with a case study about Turkey and the role of human rights. Then, I started a PhD on how the media affects public opinion on Turkey’s path to the EU. Learning Turkish was helpful not only for my studies, but also for my job, when a few years later, I worked at the Ministry of National Defence. Unfortunately, I do not practice anymore so I cannot really say I can speak the language… But very recently I had the opportunity to remember some during an official visit to Turkey with the Minister.
Let’s talk about tourism & strategy…
- Every challenge is an opportunity. What opportunities has the situation you once described as “pandemic pause” given Greek tourism?
The pandemic was an opportunity in the sense of identifying our weaknesses and at the same time highlighted the possibilities of the tourism sector for the Greek economy as a whole. Now, more than ever, we must create the conditions for economic recovery and growth through an upgraded tourism product. With our 10-year strategic plan for sustainable tourism development, we are introducing a new paradigm that is greener, more digital, and more diverse. We are promoting a new business model that will mobilize all available resources and connect tourism with the primary sector and manufacturing in order to act as a vehicle that brings together our products and services with their potential consumers. At the same time, this new tourism strategy takes into consideration a number of systemic challenges and priorities that the sector is facing: the large number of micro- to very small- businesses; the skills mismatch of the tourism labour force; the financing gap of the tourism industry’s needs; the under-developed internal tourism market; the modernization of the existing legislation.
- You have in the past stated that the administrative infrastructure is not necessarily up to the size of the Greek Tourism sector. What plans do you intend to use to remedy this?
The tourism ecosystem contributes 20-25% of the Greek GDP directly or indirectly. It is not exactly the size of the administrative infrastructure but also the structure per se. We want to attract investments but we do not have the necessary resources to “run” the cases as fast as we want… so we definitely need to redesign the organisational structure of the Ministry and to adjust to the real needs of the sector. The core Ministry business until now was believed to be mainly the promotion campaign … well, it is a lot more. Tourism is an ecosystem with many different components, including co-competences with other Ministries and a complex network of economic development areas.
To be able to survive and compete in the new era we have already started a big reform for the digitalization of the services and the administration, but also of our tourist product.
- Greece is rebranding itself as a year-round travel destination. How much, if any, infrastructural change has that required? Does the profile of “tourist 0” change with the month and if yes—to what?
Greece has started to position itself as an emerging destination in yearlong tourist season. In this sense, we started to develop different types of products apart from the traditional sun-sea-sand, where we are a well-established mature market, and provide tourists with many more options. This requires a significant investment in the infrastructure relevant to the new products and subsequently the training of the human resources in these areas.
- Humanity has been warned that 2021 will be the century of pandemics. This naturally poses a threat to Greek tourism, which the corona years showed well. How is the ministry preparing the country for this in the short and in the long run?
Indeed, the pandemic had some serious effects on tourism both internationally as well as here in Greece. However, we acted fast and took all necessary measures and put safety first. Our government supported both the labour market and the businesses in the sector to stand on their feet during the pandemic while at the same time was planning for the next day using the RRF facility for tourism development, along with funds from cohesion policy and national PIP.
Also, under WTO leadership, and with strong support on our side, the Global Tourism Crisis Committee was established during the pandemic to better coordinate measures among countries, boost resilience and facilitate recovery. At the same time, we plan for the long term via transforming the tourism ecosystem to be more sustainable, more resilient, more green, more digital, and more accessible. This will in turn provide the means to “shield” tourism product from future shocks.
Let’s talk about travelers, and about Greece…
- What is something you wish every person travelling to Greece knew about?
Our country is famous over time for the good weather and the deep blue seas, but the words “holidays in Greece” are coming to mean much more than sea and sun and that is something we aim every one of our visitors know about. In terms of the traditional sea-and-sun product, among global tourism competition, Greece is considered a mature and an acknowledged destination that needs to pave the way for quality over volume. At the same time, the country is an emerging destination in under-explored secondary markets, which if fully explored will boost economic growth, foremost in less developed regions and local communities. These secondary markets are built on the country’s unparalleled geographical morphology, combining activities and products of Greece’s huge coastline, the insular regions, and the mountainous areas, along with a specific agro-diet based on products of unique quality. Visiting Greece is a memorable experience which includes people smiles, tastes and smells!
- What would you like to know about every person traveling to Greece as a tourist?
The most important element is the whole experience the visitor goes through. This starts form the point of choosing a destination and ends with the feedback he/she gives. As a policy and a decision maker, I want to know everything that impacts his/her decision where to go, where to stay, what to eat, how to go there, the level of satisfaction during his/her staying, the quality-of-service. Overall, everything that affects any action to spread the experience and influences the revisiting.
- What role do you see for the diaspora with regards to promoting year-round tourism for Greece?
Our goal is to let the visitors know that Greece is a yearlong destination. The Greek Diaspora all over the world can be the best ambassadors for that promoting not only the whole country, but also their own place of origin and its special characteristics. Greek diaspora using digital channels and word of mouth could spread the news; “all you want is Greece!”