As Greece grapples with its uncertain political future, a group of expatriate Greeks concerned about the future of tourism, a key economic driver, is helping promote their native country in a novel way.
They used crowd funding to raise money for billboard advertising in New York’s Times Square in March and April. Another billboard went up in Washington, D.C. on May 3.
Social media campaign
Called Up Greek Tourism, the promotion used social media sites to raise more than $20,000 in 20 days from private individuals around the world to pay for the billboards.
There is also a website, UpGreeekTourism.gr with a video promoting Greece tourism, along with other information on the destination and the cause.
Most of the individuals behind the drive are not involved in the travel industry. The project is managed by Greeks around the world on a voluntary basis, with no budget or hired professionals.
“Our team is made of people with day jobs, working on this project in their spare time. We chose tourism, because it is the ‘heavy industry’ in Greece,” said Yorgos Kleivokiotis, one of the initiative’s co-founders.
Changing the future
“While our government is trying to deal with the economic crisis, we, as individuals, should not wait. We need to take matters into our own hands to help change the future of our country,” said co-founder Onic Palandjian.
Everyday people promoting tourism to their country is very unusual – and perhaps a first for Europe, said veteran Europe destination marketer Neil S. Martin, who co-edits the newsletter Trans-Atlantic Report.
“This is the first time I’ve heard of such a phenomena,” Martin told Travel Market Report.
Agents urged to sell Greece
Travel agents should not shun Greece as a recommended destination, Kleivokiotis told Travel Market Report, though clients’ safety concerns do need to be addressed, he added.
“Greeks this year will be more hospitable than ever, because they realize the importance of tourist spending. I believe you can get better deals these days, making Greece more affordable.”
Up Greek Tourism is support by at least one travel industry organization, Hellenic Holidays, a travel agency and tour operator in New York.
“We support the effort and grassroots campaign of Up Greek Tourism,” Petros Zissimos, a travel planner with Hellenic Holidays, told Travel Market Report.
“We support Up Greek Tourism, frankly, because of their no-nonsense attitude, their work effort and their belief that bypassing bureaucracy gets things done.”
Hellenic Holidays, whose offices are in New York’s Times Square, where the initial billboard was located, did see a positive effect from the campaign, Zissimos said. “We did have bookings from the effort.”
Impact of austerity measures
Greece attracts close to 15 million tourists a year, almost 4 million more than its total population, according to Up Greek Tourism. Tourism accounts for nearly 18% of Greece’s GDP and employs roughly one-fifth of the country’s workforce.
Calling Greece’s economic circumstances “desperate,” Europe destination marketer Martin said of the Up Greek drive, “this is real patriotism that helps their people.”
Of the European countries that have received bailouts from the EU, only Ireland is still investing heavily in tourism, according to Martin. “Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece, even France, are doing very little because their governments have cut back on their budgets.”
See related story, “Unrest in Greece: Cause for Client Concern?,” May 3, 2012