Tourist and business visa waiver for UAE citizens travelling to Greece will soon be a reality, says Dionyssios Zois, Greek Ambassador to the UAE, in an exclusive interview to TRENDS.
Greece has just secured an extension to its bailout, albeit with a few compromises to some of the election pledges. What’s your assessment of the event and are you confident the deal will provide some political stability to your country, which has seen several governments come and go in the recent past?
Undoubtedly it is a positive sign. As we saw, the teleconference of Euro ministers approved the proposals of the government, which means we are moving towards the path of stability. This government represents the wishes and expectations of the people and has the popular support of more than 80 percent of the Greeks, so it will undoubtedly succeed. I also want to add that no matter which government is in power, ties between Greece and UAE will always continue to flourish.
You are in Dubai for a travel roadshow and to promote Greece as a tourist destination to local operators here. How critical a sector has tourism been for your country in these years of economic turmoil?
Undoubtedly tourism is the heavy industry of Greece. It has been one of the pillars of our economy. We are very happy that last year the number of tourists to Greece increased to an unprecedented number exceeding 23 million. And we are looking forward to welcoming more tourists to Greece throughout this year, including from the UAE, which is a very important country for us for many reasons. We pay special attention to having Emirati tourists to Greece and as you saw in the presentations, there has been a 30 percent increase in arrivals from the UAE last year. Greece has a rich history, several natural wonders, warm people and great food. There is geographical proximity to the UAE as well – we have daily flights connecting Athens from both Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
Visa reciprocation for tourists and businesses is a pending issue that needs to be sorted out. What’s the update on that front?
Very soon, we are going to sign an agreement between the European Union and the UAE on the visa waiver. I am expecting this measure to come into effect soon. Greece is very proud of this development, as it was we who had raised the issue first with the relevant European institutions. The visa waiver will definitely aid in further boosting business and tourism.
How have bilateral ties between the two countries evolved?
The two countries established ties long ago. The first Greek Embassy was established here in 1989 and I had the honour of opening it. Now as Ambassador I feel there is a lot more that can be done, even though much work has been done already. The two countries have opened a big variety of areas of cooperation. Our governments also enjoy excellent bilateral relations. The UAE opened its embassy in Athens in 2008, which was a sign of the importance they attach to Greece.
Are you seeing a growth in business-to-business ties between the two countries? There were talks of several joint Emirati-Greek investment projects. Any concrete updates on those?
Business-to-business ties are good, although there is great potential to further develop them. In the UAE, there are more than 120 Greek companies operating in various fields. I am happy to hear that some of them are part of landmark project developments. Most of the white marble in the Sheikh Zayed Mosque came from Greece, for instance.
I see a sincere interest for the development of trade and business from both sides. We see that with the business delegations coming to the UAE and the big participation by Greek companies in major exhibitions taking place in Dubai. The chambers are also very helpful in assisting and promoting this relationship. The two countries have established a joint cooperation committee – chaired by the two foreign ministers, which has met twice. We are now planning for the next joint committee meeting to take place in Abu Dhabi. We already have important investments from UAE in Greece and we are looking forward to bigger investments in the future.