Haris Coccossis is Executive Secretary of Tourism at the Greek Ministry
of Tourism Development.
2002, he has been Professor of Spatial and Environmental Planning with
specialisation in tourism planning, at the Department of Planning and
Regional Development, University of Thessaly in Volos. Between
1986-2002 he taught at
the Department of Environmental Studies, University of the
Aegean as a Professor and as a visiting professor in
several universities around the world.
obtained his PhD in Urban & Spatial Planning at Cornell University
(USA), his MSc in Urban Planning at California State
Polytechnic University (USA) and is a licensed Architect & Civil
Engineer from the National Technical University of Athens.
Professor Coccossis' extensive international scientific research
experience includes directing and participating in over 50 national
and international multidisciplinary research programmes covering
development, tourism, spatial planning, environmental management and
planning issues. For over twenty years he was a scientific advisor for
the Mediterranean Action Plan of the United Nations Environment
Program (UNEP/MAP) working in sustainable development, sustainable
tourism, integrated environmental management, urban development and
As a scientific advisor for many international organisations
(European Commission, OECD, World Bank, FAO, UNEP, UNESCO) he acted as
a consultant in issues ranging from spatial planning and environmental
management, coastal area management, to planning for tourism,
environment and insular development with
assignments in Mediterranean and African countries (Albania, Croatia,
Slovenia, Cyprus, Tunisia, Morocco, Lebanon, Israel, Syria, Malta,
Kenya, Tanzania, Comoros). He served as consultant and scientific
advisor to the Greek Government (Greek National Tourism Organisation,
Ministry of Coordination, Ministry of National Economy, Ministry for
Environment, Physical Planning and Public Works, Organisation for the
Planning and Environmental Protection of Athens) and represented
Greece in various international meetings including at the European
Commission and the United Nations.
Professor Coccossis has published 12 books and over 50 scientific
articles or chapters in international journals and books covering
spatial planning and environment, tourism, sustainable development,
insular development and related topic, and has made an
extensive number of presentations in international and domestic
(The Interview follows:)
It is rather rare in Greece, but fortunate, that an internationally acclaimed
academic finds himself in a leading government post in a strategic sector
such as Tourism1. How easy is it however for someone to suffer the
simplifications, the political expediency and the impatience of
politicians, and occasionally the miscommunication and conflicting
responsibilities of public administrators?
Professor Haris Coccossis: Tourism is a world growing
socio-economic phenomenon which affects many destinations. It brings
social and economic benefits to local societies, often offering
opportunities to disadvantaged locations (like mountain communities
and small islands) but also has often significant impacts. Tourism
affects the environment and more than any other activity tourism
depends on the quality of the environment. Therefore tourism should be
carefully planned and managed. In that sense it is a challenge to work
in the policy making in tourism and it is this challenge which is
attractive to many people, including academics: bridging policy and
The Athens Olympics, despite the creation of the Metro and the Tram,
were surely not the most environmentally friendly in history, as,
under the prevailing world climate, priority & funding were given to
security issues rather than the environment. However, do you believe
that the Olympics greatly boosted tourism in Athens? Would you
recommend the Olympics to other cities that aim to revive their
tourism, and if so what should they be paying attention to?
Professor Haris Coccossis: The
Olympic Games is a complex endeavour which involves many aspects of
policy making and planning, not excluding the environment or safety
(which is a recent societal priority). The Athens Olympics became an
important catalyst to coordinate public and private sector activities
towards improving infrastructure and services in a major metropolitan
area: Athens. Such improvements had beneficial effects on the quality
of life and the image of the city as a tourist destination. The best
advice for future candidate cities is to plan carefully the post-event (Olympics) use of facilities and include such considerations in
a strategy for the development of tourism, something we missed in the
past in Athens.
Tourism in Greece, and in many other countries, is an open profession,
where anyone, irrespective of training, can try her luck, either as an
employee or an investor, something surely democratic and competitive.
On the other hand, do you think that the end result is an educational
deficiency in all levels, which has negative connotations for service
quality? In particular, do you see a need for University seats, in new
fields such as Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism?
Professor Haris Coccossis: Tourism is changing. It becomes more elaborate and demanding and in
that sense it is important to focus on the quality of the product
offered (tourist accommodation, tourist assets, infrastructure and
services). Such concerns require continuous education and training at
all levels in both private and public sectors. In that respect,
tourism education is important. In Greece we still lack in basics so
any initiative is welcome.
If only you could cure one ill of
Greek Tourism during your tenure, which one would you choose?
Professor Haris Coccossis: Three are the great challenges of tourism policy at present in the
context of developing a strategy to improve the quality of the tourist
product: develop tourism in a context of a strategy towards
sustainable development, improve the intelligence of Greek tourism and
prepare a master plan for tourism which puts priorities and rules for
tourist development on the basis of the particularities of the greek
We hear today's tourism leaders talk about super luxury resorts, golf
courts, richer and more, many more, tourists, indicating new source
countries such as China. However, could there be perhaps an ultimate
maximum limit to the number of tourists, determined by the carrying
capacity of a country, both environmental and social? Have sustainable
concepts been understood and accepted by the broader tourism and
political leadership, or is sustainability and alternative tourism
still seen as the magic trick to achieve the famous and elusive
the tourism season?
Professor Haris Coccossis: Carrying capacity is a powerful concept on which to base tourist
development. It can be used as a tool to build consensus among key
actors on putting tourism in the context of a strategy towards
sustainable development. In essence it is focusing on adapting tourism
to the characteristics and particularities of space (the
destinations). Part of such a concern is to maintain tourism
competitiveness by improving the quality of services but also
maintaining the very basis of our comparative advantages: our natural
and cultural heritage. These are the yardsticks for any decisions on
tourist development and these concerns can guide growth and
development of tourism.
Very recent studies have alerted us about the danger (refuted by some
as hype) of an abrupt increase of temperature in the Mediterranean
basin in the next 50 years, up to 5 degrees Celsius, due to the
greenhouse effect, with the potential of wrecking summer tourism in
Greece. Already, every summer, there are black-outs in the tourist,
mainly insular, areas of Greece. What initiative has your Ministry
taken, or is considering, so that tourist enterprises at least are
both adequately supplied with energy but also
Professor Haris Coccossis: There are incentives for the private sector to adopt
environmentally friendly practices and technologies but the most
important challenge is to change our thinking about development,
including tourism, and this is not a responsibility of the Ministry of
Tourism alone. We are pursuing several cross-sectoral issues with
Every summer, there are incidents, limited in number in the same
resorts and usually non-violent, between drunken tourists and locals,
associated with the sun, sea & sand model. Is there a policy to
address this particular issue, or is it in any case preferable to
sacrifice a few resorts for the sake of the rest?
Professor Haris Coccossis: The eventual crises from the poor behaviour of guests/visitors are
part of a broader social phenomenon of social tensions accentuated
often in tourism destinations because of the relaxed atmosphere and
the easing-off in self control when one is on vacation but also
induced by bad practices of certain-a few fortunately-tour operators.
Of course such behaviour is unacceptable to the extent it affects
social norms, values, properties, etc. and in that respect measures
are taken in coordination with foreign embassies, the police, local
authorities and travel agents. So far such measures have been proven
Greece has changed its central tourism slogan (branding) many times in
recent years. Is this positive or negative in your opinion, and were
you to write a slogan for Greek tourism which one would it be?
Professor Haris Coccossis: Branding the tourist destination-Greece is a serious challenge and
for this reason we have the assistance of a specialised consultant
selected through international competition. A brand name should be
maintained long enough to become effective.
The highly seasonal character of Greek tourism is the cause (or the
excuse for others) for the annual ritual of firing (and rehiring) of
Could perhaps this not be acceptable in the 21st century, and the
winter months should be used to retrain employees?
Professor Haris Coccossis: Extending the tourist season is an important tool in achieving one
of our basic goals: to broaden and enrich the tourist product. This
takes a lot of time and necessitates measures in several policy fields
such as providing special tourist infrastructure (including golf
courses, convention and exhibition facilities, rural tourism
installations and others) and incentives for attracting tour operators
and airlines beyond the tourist season.
The tourism sector is famously labour-intensive, thus in Greece it
employs many economic migrants. However, this results in uninsured and
unofficial employment, abuse of labour laws and training shortcomings.
Is there some position or initiative of your Ministry for the
immigrants who contribute to Greek tourism?
Professor Haris Coccossis: The social security issues of all those who work, including in
tourism, is part of the general social policy of the country,
extending beyond the responsibility of the Ministry of Tourism.
Women Agrotourism Cooperatives: Formerly avant-garde, currently
old-guard and waning. Have they simply completed their life-cycle, or
do they need state support?
Professor Haris Coccossis: This is because the development of such associations was
characterised by a spontaneity (enthusiasm and voluntary work) and
lacked serious measures to assist them to reach a required level of
competence and organisation to survive in the modern world. New
initiatives (not always on the basis of women’s associations) are
being developed by the private and/or public sector at several destinations
which demonstrate vitality and adaptability to the challenges of
modern-day markets. These are supported through various programmes
(clustering etc.) of our Ministry.
There is a common view that many ugly and unprofessional hotels were
built over 30 years ago with easy loans handed out by the then
military regime. If there were enough funds to compensate their
owners, would you demolish them as other countries have done4
or would you withdraw them from the market
by changing their use?
Professor Haris Coccossis: The low competitiveness of the lower end of the tourist
accommodations in Greece (hotels and rented rooms included) is
probably the most inhibiting factor in upgrading the product. We have
a policy to change the use of old hotels and study a broader policy to
upgrade and/or remove from the market the lower quality of service
Greece finally has, thanks to the initiative of the current
administration, a Ministry of Tourism Development. However it also has
a separate Ministry of Culture and a Ministry of Environment & Public
Works. If we pause to think who is responsible for administering an
archaeological site in a forested area, should perhaps these three
ministries be fused, as in other countries5
- some far larger - or do you believe that the autonomy of the
Ministry of Tourism is paramount?
Professor Haris Coccossis: Tourism is a complex activity involving several aspects:
transportation, accommodation, services. Therefore in theory a
Ministry of Tourism could be a Ministry of Coordination (including
responsibilities to manage airports, clean the streets, etc.). This is
not possible in a modern context of developed institutions (other
Ministries, local authorities, etc.) The challenge is to develop
mechanisms of concertation (coordination, synergy building,
cooperation) with a Ministry of Tourism as a catalyst.
Thank you very much
1. Tourism, broadly defined, produces up to 15%
of Greek GDP and employs around 800,000 (18% of the official labour
force) and an increasing number of economic migrants. It is even more
important in most insular and some rural areas. Greece only acquired a
'Tourism Development' ministry in 2004, a few months before the
Olympics, after many short-lived attempts in the past. The inclusion
of the word 'Development' in the title, although Greece is a mature
tourism destination, probably reflected the
broader 'pro-development' stance of the incoming government as the
Ministry of Agriculture, was also renamed - 'Agricultural
2. Greek tourism is marked by high seasonality. Some
50% of visitors arrive in the course of just three summer months (July
- September), most by charter flights from northern Europe.
'Alternative' forms of tourism are usually seen as ways to attract
business, special interest and independent visitors in winter, which
is a heavy one with the exception of south Aegean, Crete, and Ionian
islands. Seasonality also has its pluses, as it allows the environment
to recuperate and locals in rural areas to attend to their more
traditional, agricultural duties.
3. We are mainly referring to cleaning personnel and
other workers in large resorts. However the same is true for many
tavernas, bars and other ancillary services which mostly employ
temporary staff, both greek and foreign.
4. In Spain, a number of hotels built in the 70s-80s
(some illegally occupying the beach, others dilapidated, or spoiling
the view) have been demolished in the Balearics and Costa del Sol, as
part of tourism rejuvenation policies, along with moratoria on new
An online search in gives plenty of results for "Ministry of Tourism &
Culture" (and vice versa) and rather fewer for "Ministry of Tourism &
Environment". Only Antigua, Lesotho and St. Kitts, all small-size,
however combine all three portfolios.
Find the complete
list of ECOCLUB Interviews here