By Denizhan Guzel
Greek islands expect Turkish tourists to increase substantially if the visa-free deal between EU and Turkey comes through, Greek chamber and tourism officials said Thursday.
Thrasos Kalogridis, president of the Association of Greek Insular Chambers, told Anadolu Agency that he expected the visa-free deal to increase the number of Turkish tourists traveling across Greek islands, which was recorded at up to a million people last year.
“Visa-free travel proposal will inflate the number of Turkish tourists visiting Greek islands,” Kalogridis said.
He also welcomed the European Commission’s recommendation Wednesday on the visa-free deal, which would benefit around 80 million Turkish citizens.
He pointed out that the process of a visa-free deal for Turks should be implemented as soon as possible as it concerns them closely, saying the move would also "prompt fresh investment cooperation as well".
"The income of Greek islands is based on tourism. I believe this deal will benefit Turkish-Greek business relations and create new opportunities for both countries. Our wish is to grow tourism and trade volume," he said.
While trade volume between Greece and Turkey was €184 million in 2000, it rose to €3.7 billion in 2015, he said.
The number of Turkish citizens visiting Greece and especially Greek islands also rose from 115,000 in 2001 to one million in 2015, he added.
"This increase in numbers came after the application of lifting of visas for green passport holders. Establishing visa centers in the largest cities of Turkey and allowing people to get visas at ports of entry in five islands also helped the process," he said.
Turkey issues green passports to a special category of its citizens, including teachers and public servants. Common citizens are issued maroon-colored regular passports. While current green passport holders can avail benefits such as visa-free travel to several European states, the new visa-free deal with EU would enable all Turkish citizens to claim such benefits in Schengen countries.
Dimitris Kytirilakis, chairman of hotelier’s federations in Chios, said: "Despite visa requirements, Chios Island attracts Turkish visitors with increasing numbers every year. With this decision [about EU-Turkey visa free deal], more Turkish citizens will visit the island."
Turkish tourists visit Chios the most, which is considered the fifth-largest Greek island and is located just seven kilometers (4.3 miles) off the Anatolian coast.
As part of the visa-free deal, Kytirilakis believed that more than 120,000 visitors will visit the island this year, saying he hoped "these numbers will multiply every year".
Nezihe Ozturk, chairman of a firm running the Cesme- Chios ferry services, said that she too hoped for more visitors from Turkey to Chios.
Turkey has just five benchmarks, out of an initial total of 72, to fulfill by the end of June to get its visa-free deal, according to the European Commission, the European Union’s executive body.
The five remaining benchmarks touch on such issues as anti-corruption measures, data protection in line with EU standards, cooperation with the EU’s law enforcement agency Europol, judicial cooperation on criminal matters with all EU member states, and "revising the legislation and practices on terrorism in line with European standards".
On Tuesday, Turkey’s Cabinet approved visa-free travel for citizens of EU member states seeking to visit the country, according to its official Gazette.
However, the measure will only be implemented once the EU accepts visa liberalization for Turkish nationals.
Citizens of most EU member states in the Schengen borderless zone are already exempt from obtaining a visa before visiting Turkey.
*Anadolu Agency Correspondent Ahmet Sait Akcay contributed to this story from Ankara.Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.