Monday, November 22, 2021
Kalispera. Deputy Minister Zacharaki, Sophia, President of the Hellenic Chamber of Hotels, Mr. Vassilikos, Alexandros, guests, friends, and start-uppers, thank you so much for inviting me to join you this evening at this networking event of the CapsuleT Travel and Hospitality Accelerator Program.
I want to say to begin with first of all, I fully endorse Alexandros’s view about young people and who falls within that definition. It gets a little harder every year to define myself that way, but I really do believe in it. I also want to say how much we value the partnership with the Hellenic Chamber of Hotels, and how important it is for us, and also our partnership with CapsuleT in helping to bring this initiative to fruition.
We’re very proud to join forces with you to advance a shared vision for promoting growth in the tourism sector while empowering young leaders with the job skills they need to succeed in the future. We very much look forward to continuing this collaboration in the future.
I want to first of all congratulate you as well for organizing this competition and keeping it going despite the challenges of the global pandemic. This is an area that has so much prospect for the future. I make the point all the time about how much Greece has to offer as a year-round tourist destination, and especially with all of my American friends and fellow citizens, to underline that there is so much more to Greece than just Mykonos, Santorini, and the Acropolis.
Greece has a wealth of fantastic and diverse locations that are steeped in history and mythology: the green and mountainous north, the stunning Aegean islands, the richly historic Peloponnese. I have loved exploring all of these aspects of Greece over the past five years with my wife and family. And I’m definitely not finished yet. I still have a very long bucket list that seems to get a little bit longer every year.
And I know that Greek entrepreneurs can benefit from working even more closely with American business leaders, with American services providers, combining your entrepreneurial energies and the fantastic touristic product that Greece offers with the best of American innovation, American best practices and the world-leading technological tools that our sector is developing.
I’ve been very proud over the past five years of everything the Embassy has done to help support the Greek startup sector. This is something that came very naturally to me as a Californian. I grew up around the Silicon Valley story, and California embodies this idea which I have found so much also among Greek young people of reinvention and of opportunity. I’ve been so impressed and so encouraged to see also over these past five years how this Greek startup and technology space has begun to flourish. It says to me that we were on the right track when we started talking about these issues in 2016, and also that this is going to be an area that is going to continue to see continued growth and acceleration, helped in large part by all of these investments that you see from our tech giants — Google, Microsoft, Cisco, and the rest of them.
One woman whose work exemplifies this U.S.-Greece cooperation is Agapi Sbokou, the Managing Director of Phaea Resorts in Elounda. She has been partnering with major American hotel companies Marriott International and Starwood since 2003, and we featured her story in our “Making It Happen” campaign last year in 2018 which focused on telling some of these Greek success stories that were lesser known in the United States.
I know that Cooperating with American companies has given people and entrepreneurs like Agapi the ability to access larger markets and develop the know-how to compete in a very dynamic global environment.
Increased competitiveness, innovative business strategies, and training in digital marketing are just a few of the many skills that young Greek entrepreneurs can gain by building their synergies and partnerships with American businesses.
The U.S. Embassy’s partnership with HRH CapsuleT is part of our larger effort to help accelerate the Greek economy and in particular the vital tourism industry. This has been one of the true bright spots of what has been for everybody a very difficult 2021. The fantastic success of Greece’s tourism recovery this year is something that’s drawn a lot of notice, and I’m especially proud that American customers and American visitors have been such an important part of that success story. The fact that we have a record nine direct flights coming from the United States to Greece, the fact that so many Americans took the opportunity their first trip after being vaccinated to come and enjoy everything that the Greek summer has to offer. And from what I hear from Minister Kikilias and others, the expectation is that 2022 will be an even stronger year.
Sofia, we wish you every success in that, and we look forward to partnering to continue to drive that growth. And I know that there are a lot of people in this room who are also excited about the fact that the United States is open for Greek visitors and Greek travelers, and we look forward to facilitating that, both to build business ties but also so that Greeks can enjoy everything that the United States has to offer.
Especially in terms of Greek young people, folks like you in the start-up sector. We want to make sure that we are doing everything we possibly can to facilitate the connectivity that you have with counterparts in the United States to see what’s happening in areas like diversity and inclusion in the United States, the empowerment of women entrepreneurs, the way in which technology and the acceleration of technology through the pandemic is driving innovation and creating new opportunities in this space. The world of 2022 is going to look is going to look different from the world of 2019. We’ve just scratched the surface of that transformation.
I very much hope that the Greek start-uppers and young entrepreneurs take advantage of this CapsuleT initiative and go on to create exciting professional products that help to grow the Greek tourism offering and create new opportunities for Americans to get to know everything that this country has to offer.
The United States, as we’re reminding everybody during this bicentennial year, has been Greece’s friend and ally for 200 years now, and we’re committed to continuing to deepen that friendship and to work with organizations like CapsuleT to open even wider pathways, working with American business leaders while advancing our shared vision for economic growth and prosperity in Greece and the wider region.
Congratulations to all the teams on all of the work you’ve done so far. I very much look forward to hearing more about your work and your ideas and seeing how we can continue to growing this partnership which is so important to both of our countries and, as I said, touches on what for me has been one of the most enjoyable aspects of my five years in Greece, which is getting to know everything this remarkable country has to offer.