Elena Kountoura, Minister of Tourism, Hellenic Republic, Ministry of Economy, Development & Tourism, Greece Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Dubai: Greece’s tourism minister expects tourist arrivals to the European country to grow by 15-20 per cent in 2016.

Last year, there were 26.5 million arrivals to Greece, up from 22 million in 2014, despite the economic problems the country faced and the thousands of refugees that arrived on its shores.

This year “is definitely going to be a good year” for tourism in Greece, Elena Kountoura , the country’s minister of tourism, said in an interview at the Arabian Travel Market (ATM) in Dubai on Monday.

Tourism in a major sector in Greece. It represents 20 per cent of the country’s GDP [gross domestic product], Kountoura said. The country’s tourism revenues reached €14.5 billion (Dh60.27 billion) in 2015.

The growth in arrivals will be driven in part by new tourism offerings and promotional campaigns in international markets, she said.

“We implemented a new strategy. We have prolonged the [tourism] season. It starts in [early] April when normally before it started end of April and now it ends late November. We have also developed new products: thematic tourism, cruise tourism and medical tourism,” she said.

Greece offers value for money, which is a major draw for visitors, she said.

“We are the best deal, we are value for money. We are in Europe but at the same time we have prices that are affordable for every visitor,” she said.

Kountoura said the refugee crisis has not impacted tourism to Greece.

“We faced [it] right away and we did our duty. When we had this crisis last year, we managed to make sure that all the centers received the people that need accommodation,” she said.

More than a million refugees fled to Europe by sea in 2015, mainly to Greece and Italy, according to the UN Refugee Agency.

Kountoura hopes tourist arrivals to Greece to grow by at least 10-15 per cent annually in the next three to four years.

“If we prolong the [tourism] season and things are going well in the neighborhood, I think the coming years will be much better. I would wish to have each year a minimum increase of 10-15 per cent,” she said.

In the first quarter of this year, tourist arrivals to Greece rose 17.5 per cent compared to the same period in 2015, Kountoura said, adding that she expects a 15-20 per cent growth year-on-year in the second quarter. She anticipates arrivals from the GCC , which increased by around 22 per cent year-on-year in 2015, to double this year.

There is demand from developers to build hotels in Greece, Kountoura said.

“This year, we have 160 applications for the development of four- and five-star hotels,” she said, adding that the government will announce incentives to build hotels. “The ministry of economy, development and tourism already has a new law that will give some incentives to investors. That is coming next month,” she said, without disclosing details.