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Big guns out for Greek holiday show

Greece has certainly brought out the big guns to promote the country as a destination of choice for holidaymakers in 2015.

Even Greek Orthodox priests were getting in on the act with a stand at the World Travel Market event in London where celebrities from travel writer Simon Calder to Greek Tourism Minister Olga Kefalogianni were promoting Greece and the Greek Islands as top holiday travel destination.

The London event is one of the major travel and holiday conventions in the world and it's where countries can push hard to promote incoming tourism to the travel company giants like Thomson, Olympic Holidays Thomas Cook.

Tourism Minister Olga Kefalogianni opened the Greek pavilion with a forecast that 2015 will be even better than the last two years when tourism records were broken.

She told journalists and professionals from the tourism industry: "During the last two years, Greece has seen a great increase in tourism. For 2015, initial data shows the market will increase further and Greece will solidify its position among the 15 top tourist destinations in the world."

Later, travel writer and broadcaster Simon Calder spelled out the attraction of Greece to UK visitors down the ages in a presentation to delegates.

A sucker for Greece and Greek holidays himself, his overview of the British love affair with the country included a reminder that 2014 is the 100th anniversary of the setting up of a tourism office in Greece, a move that blazed the way for modern international tourism.

British interest in Greece was initially triggered in the 19th century when tours of Classical Greece were considered essential to the education of the upper classes — yesterday's equivalent of the ubiquitous modern gap year.

While English Romantics such as Byron and Shelley swooned over the classical ruins of Ancient Greece, the artist Edward Lear was bringing back painting and newfangled photographs of a culture that would tempt even more visitors.

But it was the second half of the 20th century that saw the rise of mass tourism to Greece and the Greek Islands, a phenomenon that has seen exponential growth from 33,000 in the early 1950s to a forecast 18 million in 2014.

"The British experience of tourism in Greece makes for a fascinating social history," Calder told his audience. "From tourism pioneers such as Thomas Cook, who first took a party of tourists to Greece in 1869 to hippie explorers sleeping on beaches in the '60s to the boom of the package holiday in the 1970s and '80s."

Looking forward, Greece intends to widen it's appeal and attract visitors who want more than sunshine, sand and beachside tavernas. Tourism leaders hope to appeal to visitors looking for city breaks, luxury villas and wine tours.

Scuba diving, health spas, flower tours and visits to religious sites are all included in a repertoire of events that will be heavily promoted in the forthcoming holiday seasons.

As if to prove the point, at the Greek stand at the travel show the Church of Greece was out in force with booklets on tours that follow the footsteps of Saint Paul, the Apostle, across Greece.

The text was edited by the Synodical Office of Pilgrimage Tours as part of a drive by the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece to promote religious tourism.

The Tourism Minister also made it clear that tourism is a top priority for 2015. She said: "We are trying to promote destinations which are less known abroad, like unknown islands, mainland Greece, mountainous areas and mainly to show the country is not just a destination for sun and sea, but a destination throughout the year."

It looks like she's knocking at an open door given the recent staggering growth in holiday visitors, especially from the UK. But hopes are high that, by widening the appeal of Greek holidays and extending the tourist season beyond the traditional May to September beach holiday break, 2015 may turn out to be better than ever for the Greek tourism industry.

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