The visit of Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis to China at the end of this week is expected to confirm, at the highest level possible, the excellent relations enjoyed by the two countries. Their relations are based on their age-old traditions, their vast contributions to world culture and their determination to respond decisively and in a timely fashion to the challenges of the new globalized reality.
Greece views developing relations with China as a priority in its tourism strategy; this view considers tourism to be of paramount importance in our developmental process, which has a global spectrum but focuses on emerging tourism markets.
China has steadily raised barriers hampering the free movement of citizens abroad, in the context of a gradually more liberal view of its own economy. This has been imposed by the rules of the globalized world as well as by China's participation in the WTO and the need to prepare properly and hold successfully the next Olympic Games in Beijing.
It is therefore reasonable for Greece to wish to develop its tourism presence in China. The Olympic Games in Beijing offers ideal conditions for the establishment of tourism diplomacy; this complements in a harmonious way the exchange of know-how about the Olympic Games, the development of cultural relations and the broadening of commercial transactions. These topics are to be discussed during the official visit of the Greek prime minister.
During my first official visit to China as the minister of tourism in April 2004, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between Greece and China, creating the basis of an "Olympic Bridge" a meeting point for the two civilizations.
Under these circumstances, a Greek tourism promotional campaign started and Greece's presence at tourism exhibitions was increased.
A Greek National Tourism Organization Office has been established in Beijing and another office will open in Shanghai in spring, in accordance with existing diplomatic practices. More tourism offices will be established in other important Chinese cities.
At the same time, on the Chinese side, there has been an unprecedented level of visits to Greece, in terms of incoming tourists and government representatives. This is exemplified by the symbolic decision of the Chinese minister of tourism to announce, during the course of the Olympic Games in Athens, the beginning of a new communication campaign linking Chinese tourism with the Games in Beijing.
Our mutual official visits and contact have been regular over the last 20 months.
Co-operation in the tourism sector has also been extended to investment.
But there are also obstacles in this process, such as delays in the issuance of visas to Chinese citizens wanting to visit Greece due to the procedures imposed by the Schengen Treaty, but also because of a general protectionist mentality prevalent in governmental authorities.
Another important factor is the lack of a direct flight between Greece and China. Since we hope to attract many Chinese tourists, whose numbers are expected to grow impressively over the next few years, an air connection with China is not only necessary but also a precondition of success.
The Greek Ministry of Tourism has foreseen the potential of the Chinese market for the development of Greek tourism in the next decade, exploiting to the uppermost degree the good atmosphere in relations between the two countries over the last few years. The results of this policy are obvious, considering the growth in terms of the flow of tourists from China.