The GNTO was founded for the first time in 1929 but was abolished seven years later (1936) and was replaced by the State Department of Press and Tourism.
It was re-established in 1951 as a legal entity. And immediately undertook the titanic task of the country’s tourist reconstruction (It was preceded by the General Secretariat for Tourism in the period 1945-1950).
With the inspired leadership (D. Papaefstratiou, First Secretary General and N. Fokas, First President), the new Organization launched a number of pioneering initiatives. It is noteworthy that all 15-year programs from 1951 to 1965 continued later; thus transforming Greece within a few years into a significant player in the world tourist map.
Consequently, modern tourism development in Greece is mainly attributed to the GNTO, the initiatives of which are divided into four major categories:
1.Implementation of public tourism infrastructure projects:
The implementation of tourism infrastructure projects has been a key policy element of all the political leaders in tourism until the last decade of the 20th century.
All the projects were implemented through the Technical Service of the GNTO, which was organized and staffed as soon as the Organization was re-established, having as its first director Professor Charalambos Sfaellos, architect engineer. During its entire course, the Technical Service completed approximately 2,000 tourism projects (unique achievements worldwide) of various types, such as:
Tourist kiosks (over 60) along national highways and near archaeological sites. These projects pre-existed hotels, at a time when mass tourism was still unknown, and served a large number of visitors as they had a restaurant, a bar and a few rooms.
Hotels (known as “Xenia”) distributed throughout the country, even in non-tourist areas. This is a huge construction program of about 80 hotels, which can be considered as the most important post-war public construction effort. Therefore, this has been the most important of all GNTO implementation projects, because, through it, high-class hotels, pioneers for their time, were constructed in every corner of the country. Thus, within 15 years (1951-1965), Greece’s modest hotel capacity was increased by about 7,000 beds.
The “Xenia” hotels, however, were simultaneously pioneers for their time, models of functional design and operation with many modern elements, so that they could be later imitated by the private sector. It should be noted here that the GNTO has also set up a dedicated service for all its units.
The organized beaches were purposefully built near urban centers as recreational facilities not only for the use of tourists but also for the service of city dwellers. The first organized beach was created on Vouliagmeni coast in Attica in 1959. During the 1960s and 1980s more than 60 organized coasts throughout the country were created by the Organization.
Organized camping sites construction has also been a model of its kind; camping sites have made a decisive contribution to the development of both camp-and-drive and holiday tourism. The GNTO has built and operated a total of 14 campsites, mainly along the country’s main roads, which, besides the landscaped slopes for tents and caravans, also had all the necessary facilities for customer service, plenty of greenery as well as sports grounds.
Traditional hostels were built on the basis of a special program that provided for the restoration and conversion of traditional buildings in selected traditional settlements in the country. In total, between 1975 and 1991, restorations and arrangements in 119 buildings of ten traditional settlements were carried out by the GNTO. Thus, 680 new beds were added and, at the same time, a significant number of new jobs were created resulting from the operation of the respective units.
The marinas that were initially built and operated in the 1960s. The first one was marina Vouliagmenis, and it was followed by a network of dozens of marinas and tourist boat shelters, so that our country could become more and more competitive in the field of maritime tourism.
Other major projects for Greek tourism, such as interventions at all road border stations in the country (extensions, improvements, repairs and new construction of new ones, such as the case of Ormenio), improvements and constructions in spa areas most notably the new Edipsos Spa Treatment Center (1982), the most modern of its kind in south-eastern Europe, Parnassos Ski Center (Kellaria location), the Parnassos ski resort, the largest in the country. It is the most expensive tourism public investment infrastructure ever made in Greece. Also, Glyfada Golf Club. The golf courses of Glyfada, the first 18 hole course of the country, and of Rhodes, in Afandou area. As well as the restoration works of Achilleio Megaron in Corfu, where the European Union Heads of States Summit took place in 1994.
The promotion of Greece by the GNTO has been and continues to be accomplished through a combination of advertising and public relations activities, with the GNTO offices abroad being the main promotion vehicle. For this reason, the GNTO has proceeded to the establishment of foreign services, resulting in five offices operating already in 1962, in Brussels, Paris, Frankfurt, London and Rome.
Στον τομέα της διαφήμισης οι ετήσιες καμπάνιες, που ξεκίνησαν κατά οργανωμένο τρόπο το 1959, λειτούργησαν σε συνδυασμό με τις πρωτοβουλίες του τμήματος εκδόσεων και του καλλιτεχνικού γραφείου του Ε.Ο.Τ. Έτσι, πραγματοποιήθηκε διαχρονικά τεράστια παραγωγή αφισών, εντύπων, λευκωμάτων, δίσκων μουσικής, φωτογραφιών, χαρτών, ημερολογίων, γραμματοσήμων κ.α. Πιο ειδικά, οι εκατοντάδες αφίσες αποτέλεσαν ένα εξαιρετικά αποδοτικό διαφημιστικό αφού οργανώθηκαν δεκάδες αφισοκολλήσεις στα κέντρα ευρωπαϊκών μεγαλουπόλεων. Παράλληλα, ο Ε.Ο.Τ. συμμετείχε και συμμετέχει μέχρι σήμερα σε δεκάδες διεθνείς τουριστικές εκθέσεις σε όλο τον κόσμο με καλαίσθητα περίπτερα, στα οποία σχεδόν πάντοτε συμμετέχουν και ιδιωτικοί φορείς.
In the field of advertising, the annual campaigns, starting as of 1959, functioned in conjunction with the initiatives of the publishing department and the art department of the GNTO. Thus, massive production of posters, prints, albums, music discs, photographs, maps, calendars, stamps, etc. took place over time. More specifically, the hundreds of posters resulted in a highly effective advertising campaign since dozens of posters were placed at the centers of European cities. At the same time, the GNTO has been participating in dozens of international tourism fairs all over the world with stylish kiosks, in which the private sector is also involved. Also, the GNTO public relations department functioned in parallel to advertising campaigns, but of course with much lower costs, often producing just as good a result. More specifically, individual initiatives such as the GNTO dance group of the 1971-1974 period, the “Greek Weeks of Tourism” in various countries, the invitations to foreign celebrities and journalists, the frequent publicity in foreign press, the financing of conferences, etc. produced almost always very satisfactory results. International relations have also developed with dozens of countries through joint initiatives such as training seminars and conferences.
3. THREE ART EVENTS
In 1954 the first performances in the Epidaurus Ancient Theater were organized in cooperation with the Hellenic Touring Club. For 44 whole years until 1998, when the responsibility for organizing all the events was removed from the GNTO, in order to be transferred into a public liability company, the Organization supported administratively, economically and more, a huge number of events. It was done with such success, that the Greek festivals, best showing the Greek tourist product, are among the most successful European ones, according to the experts.
Thus, the GNTO Organized every summer the Epidaurus and Athens festivals (since 1955), in historic and prestigious venues such as the Ancient Theater of Epidaurus and the Odeon Herod Atticus in Athens.
Among the hundreds of famous artists, foreigners and Greeks, who have taken part in the performances some examples are the following: Dimitris Mitropoulos, Maria Callas, Katina Paxinou, Gina Bachauer, Leonard Bernstein, Herbert von Karajian, Margot Fonteyn, Rudolf Nureyev, Mikis Theodorakis, Bolshoi and Kirov ballets, Agni Balsa, Jose Carreras, Luciano Pavarotti and many others.
Additionally, the GNTO organized, since the summer of 1959, the “Sound and Light” performances in Acropolis and later in Rhodes and Corfu.
The wine festivals in Dafni, Attica (first year of operation 1953), in Rhodes and later in Alexandroupolis were also a great success, with over 60% of foreign tourists participating. Also, the GNTO organized performances at the Lycabettus open-air theater, which opened in 1965, having been built by the Technical Service of the Organization.
Also, in September 8th to November 8th 1965, “Panathinaia International Sculpting” (1st Biennale) was held in Athens with 140 exhibitions of dozens of internationally renowned artists such as Picasso, Dali, Matisse, Miro, Moore, Renoir etc.
4. OTHER ACTIVITIES RELATED TO SPECIFIC FORMS OF TOURISM
Apart from the public tourist projects it has built, the GNTO, since the beginning of its operation, has supported with specific initiatives specific forms of tourism.
More specifically, in the field of road trips, during the period 1953-1956, i.e. for four years, the Organization operated as a travel agency, organizing daily excursions in Sounio and Akrokorinthos and two-day trips in Delphi and Olympia. At the same time, it encouraged individuals to organize road excursions and organized tours, in which the first person from the private sector who became involved was Mr. Koulouvatos with “Hermes Tourism”.
In addition, the GNTO developed Maritime Tourism by organizing two-day or five-day cruise excursions with the ship Semiramis, from 1955 to 1962. In this way, on the one hand, it established the cruise in the Aegean Sea and, on the other, it best promoted the Greek islands. It was a gesture of support for maritime tourism that was still in its infancy. It is noteworthy that the presence of a licensed tour guide was mandatory in every cruise trip.
Furthermore, the GNTO established the shipping connection between Greece and Italy, which opened in 1960, with the acquisition of the Egnatia F/B. All the above initiatives, along with many others, put Greece on the world tourist map, since, starting from the 50,000 annual international arrivals in the early 1950s, we reached almost 2,000,000 in twenty years’ time.
Kostas Chr. Katsigiannis
Civil Engineer, NTUA graduate
GNTO Former General Director