An Interview with Minister Haris Theoharis, Minister of Tourism, Greece
On the occasion of the 66th European Congress of the UNWTO, we took the opportunity to speak with the congress host, Minister Theoharis about his foresight and leadership for tourism’s return. He has been quite candid about the government’s efforts to gather data and develop predictive models to anticipate where and how to open Greece, even down to which vaccine to use to ensure expediency. Decisions like these take courage and leadership.
Minister Theoharis has also not been shy with his European counterparts. In January, he had already determined a digital certificate for the EU was the best path forward and he forged ahead by building a coalition which was eventually accepted by the EU. The EU Digital COVID Certificate will facilitate safe free movement of citizens in the EU. Member countries will issue the certificate as of 1 July 2021.
In a subsequent interview last week, we discussed leadership with the Minister.
Q: What is your advice to leaders who are trying to move forward but often wait for others the forge the path ahead? How should they look at the risk/ reward calculation?
It is only through collective action that leaders will be able to transform tourism, make it increasingly sustainable, responsible, and resilient for the years to come. As it has turned out, we are participating in a marathon and not in a speed race. That is why leaders must work together in a coordinated way for the creation of a more resilient, competitive, safe, and sustainable tourism model, that will help the tourism sector thrive again.
No country and no leader should be left behind. Together we can work for the recovery of the demand of both domestic and international travel, which has been significantly affected by mobility restrictions and lack of confidence. Together we can share our experiences and know-how for the purpose of promoting sustainable tourism development and fostering prosperity for all. For example, the creation of a joint group between the UNWTO Regional Commission for Europe and the Regional Commission for the Middle East for common health protocols is a responsible path to recovery for the regional and global Travel and Tourism.
Collective efforts by global tourism leaders for the safe and sustainable restart of tourism de facto guarantee that rewards outweigh risks. We are all in this together and together we will accelerate tourism recovery and re-create the necessary environment for safe, secure, and seamless travel.
Q: What is your advice to global organizations that are meant to lead, but seem to have taken a wait -and see- more data approach?
International organizations like the World Tourism Organization and the European Union have taken the lead in the safe restart of tourism. My estimate is that all major international organizations have adopted an active rather than a wait-and-see approach.
The UNWTO Commission for Europe has been highly active, within the greater efforts of the UNWTO, to deal with the unprecedented health crisis at its outset. As Chair of the Technical Group of the UNWTO Global Tourism Crisis Committee, Greece guided public and private sector leaders in drawing up practical solutions to major challenges facing tourism, including harmonized protocols for the safe restart of the sector, not only in Europe but worldwide.
The UNWTO, as a major international organization, has taken the lead to help the international tourism sector cope with the COVID-19 challenge and to create the conditions to overcome the implications, through a united response of its member countries.
At the international level, an important milestone is the IATA Travel Pass along with other travel solutions, that serve as a “digital passport” to help people travel with ease, while at the same time meeting the necessary government requirements for tests and vaccines. At the European level, the EU Digital COVID Certificate will become available in all EU Member States as of 1 July 2021. Following a relevant initiative of the Prime Minister of Greece, the Certificate will facilitate safe free movement of citizens in the EU during the pandemic.
Overall, international organizations along with the international tourism community have responded well with the aim to mitigate the negative impact of the pandemic and promote the reactivation of travel and tourism at regional as well as at global levels.
Q: The 66th Meeting of the UNWTO Commission for Europe was held in Athens recently. What have been the major outcomes of the Meeting?
Tourism leaders met in Athens in the context of the 66th Meeting of the UNWTO Commission for Europe to discuss the sustainable and safe restart of tourism across the region. They stressed the need of common procedures and standards for the safe reopening of borders, as the way ahead for the rapid rebound of travel and tourism and the preservation of jobs.
The enhancement of maritime tourism, through the institutional reform of procedures for attracting investments and the upgrading of tourist port infrastructure and equipment, was discussed extensively. A landmark Memorandum of Understanding for the establishment of the Monitoring and Research Centre for coastal and maritime tourism in the Eastern Mediterranean was signed by the Greek Ministry of Tourism and UNWTO. Coastal and Maritime tourism is major economic driver within the Mediterranean region, and it is in this context that the Greek Ministry of Tourism and UNWTO initiated the establishment of the first ever research institution dedicated to measuring the sustainable development of coastal and maritime tourism. In fact, the mission of research and monitoring center is to capture and collate measurement data and analysis pertaining to the environmental, economic, and social impact of coastal and maritime tourism.
In addition, elections were held during the 66th Meeting of the Commission for Europe for five positions in the UNWTO Executive Council. Greece, Armenia, Croatia, Georgia, and the Russian Federation were elected in the Executive Council.
Most important, Greece was nominated to serve as Chair of the UNWTO Commission for Europe for the next two years. In its role as Chair of the UNWTO Commission for Europe, Greece intends to continue sharing its experience and know-how for the purpose of promoting sustainable tourism development and fostering prosperity for all. Our commitment to the UNWTO and its goals is continuing.
We will continue to follow how Greece recovers and what new ideas are being discussed. Upon leaving the Congress, one such idea surfaced which the Minister is working on with UNWTO Secretary General Pololikashvili -COVID PCR tests’ validity period should be extended beyond 72 hours. An important savings for travellers, let’s hope it too becomes a reality.