Interview with Ioannis Trepeklis, Governor, Ionian Islands, Greece

Interview with Ioannis Trepeklis, Governor, Ionian Islands, Greece


Scattered off the western coast of Greece, the Ionian Islands represent a treasure trove of history and natural resources such as beaches, mountains and caves. The region’s more populated islands, such as Corfu, are currently being targeted by the government as possible new centers of economic activity. Can you give our readers an overview of the Ionian region and what it has to offer, both as a tourist destination and as an emerging market for other innovative industries?

The Ionian Islands, a cluster of bigger and well-known islands, such as Corfu, Lefkada, Kefalonia, Ithaca and Zakynthos, and smaller, lesser-known islands, such as Othoni, Mathraki, Erikousa, Paxi, Antipaxi, Kastos, Kalamos and Meganisi, represent a region that has been shaped throughout many centuries. We take pride in our calm sea and our islands, all blessed with gorgeous green nature and surrounded by calm, pristine emerald waters. Our Region boasts a unique cultural and aesthetic identity as well as a distinct architectural style, all influenced by the ancient Greeks, the French, the Venetians, and the British. Our deeply rooted identity makes the Ionian Islands stand out from the rest of the Greek islands. This aesthetic identity is best reflected in the island of Corfu, the capital of the Ionian Islands, which is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.


Tourism hit a record year in Greece in 2023, with revenues reaching 19.5 billion euros compared to 17.7 billion euros the year before. In July, Minister of Tourism Olga Kefalogianni outlined an updated and ambitious new national tourism strategy, with a big spend on diversification. According to a recent report by the Greek Tourism Confederation, the Ionian Islands had the largest increase in incoming visitors in 2022. What role will the Ionian Islands play in the government’s new tourism strategy? How will its new focus on regional areas and all-year-round tourism play out in the administrative region?

The Ionian Islands are determined to take the lead in this government strategy. We have achieved the best results in recent years, attracting visitors from markets that were not as well-known in Greece, such as tourists from the United States. We now place special emphasis on making our islands internationally known, targeting markets outside Europe, including the United States, India, Australia, South Korea and the United Arabic Emirates (thanks to the recently announced direct flights to our islands).

We believe that due to the natural environment of the Ionian Archipelago, with the rich green landscape of the forests and the unparalleled beaches, we will leave a lasting impression on this market, encouraging an increasing flow of visitors to our islands. Regarding sustainability, we are currently preparing a new strategy and we are in constant dialogue with various stakeholders. Our strategy will be aligned with the strategic plan provided by the Ministry of Tourism.

Additionally, we maintain excellent relations with the neighboring regions of Italy on the other side of the Ionian Sea, whereby we exchange knowledge and experiences, drawing conclusions about the potential of our region in terms of quality tourism. At the same time, we are one of the few destinations with a clear culinary identity that can be traced back centuries into the past. A region rich in gastronomic options, the Ionian Islands constitute an ideal destination for those interested in experiencing authentic Mediterranean cuisine.

Another central pillar of our strategy is the connectivity among the Ionian Islands. We have a new approach towards linking small ports and marinas with larger ones. Specifically, Meganisi serves as a useful example, where its maritime connectivity with the larger islands has recently been redesigned. Visitors can tour the islands within a reasonable timeframe with frequent stops and different experiences on each island. Our goal is to connect marinas in urban areas with marinas in relatively secluded areas.

We also collaborate with Aegean Airlines and Sky Express to enhance the interconnection between the islands by increasing flight frequency from two to three flights per week to daily trips, and by introducing the use of hydroplanes. The first hydroplanes are set to fly in spring, with routes to Patras, Paxi, and Ioannina. The rapid increase of flights will deeply strengthen the dynamics of the Ionian Islands ahead of a demanding tourist season.


In terms of infrastructure, how are you working on increasing the capacity of the islands as well as investing more on such projects in parallel? What are some of the big projects you can share with us in that regard?

We place emphasis on infrastructure projects along with private initiatives. With the assistance of both the government and the European Union, we plan to further enhance essential infrastructure projects in the coming years without causing harm to the environment, while maintaining a lasting green footprint. We will construct more ports, marinas and roads that will incorporate a green footprint.


What is the government doing to diversify economic activity in the region, both to areas outside its main islands and cities and in terms of moving away from tourism?

We are striving to showcase the local products of the Ionian land. What you see in the garden in the morning is on your plate by noon. We specifically support the primary sector, as this will attract higher-quality tourists, especially those who travel with a focus on gastronomy. In recent years, there has been a significant percentage of tourists who have chosen to visit the Ionian Islands for their excellent food. We have exceptional local products, including unique wine varieties, such as Robola, around 75% of which is exported to the United States. We invest in the high-quality olive oil we produce, as well as in dairy products and it is our goal to also strengthen other activities, like fishing tourism in the Ionian Islands.


The USA represents a huge market in terms of incoming travel to Greece, with more than 1 million American travelers estimated to have entered the country in 2023. Additionally, the USA has traditionally been the country’s eighth largest source of FDI, and huge opportunities are opening up for collaboration as Greece hits a record year in tourism. How would you assess the ease of doing business for foreign investors in the Ionian Islands and Greece? What new investment opportunities are becoming available that might be of interest to US investors?

We have a very strong expatriate Greek community that has consistently shown interest in investments in the Ionian Islands. From the government’s perspective, we can guarantee that the Ionian Islands is a secure destination for incoming international investments and visitors, particularly from the USA. American guests have consistently displayed excellent tourist behavior and contribute significantly to our islands’ growth.


From a marketing standpoint, how are you promoting the Ionian Islands for American visitors specifically?

We acknowledge that this particular aspect is relatively underdeveloped in our plans. It is a huge market for us for which we haven’t shown particular specialization. However, this is already changing. This year, our philharmonic orchestra will be sent to the USA to participate in the celebratory parade of our expatriates on the occasion of the national holiday of March 25th. This will also be a significant message to the Greek community in the USA and in New York specifically. We are convinced that our warm hospitality, our excellent food and culture are key points which can convince Americans to visit the Ionian Islands.


You recently stepped up as Governor of the Ionian Islands in October. In your opening speech you mentioned that the new government would work to turn insularity into a diver for growth and that, “For us, all islands are equal. Our islands are unique mosaics of history and culture.” What are your current top priorities as the Governor of the Ionian Islands Region in 2024? What do you hope to achieve this term?

What we would like to achieve in the coming years is to improve the basic infrastructure on our islands, promote our brand name worldwide, and develop projects and initiatives beneficial to our local communities. Our goal is to set the cornerstone for numerous serious infrastructure projects and support private development, strengthening not only a fundamental pillar of economic activity for our islands but also improving the quality of life for our residents.


What would be your final message to our readers of USA TODAY?

Visit the Ionian islands to enjoy the unique nature, extraordinary food, and heart-warming hospitality!”