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[Meet the diplomat] Athens seeks to attract Korean film, TV producers: top Greek envoy

Greece is seeking to attract South Korean film and TV producers in the hope that more of them will choose Greece as a shooting location and keep the momentum going for tourism.

The country has long been popular among honeymooners and historians, but it received a big boost as a dream holiday destination for Koreans thanks to the 2016 smash hit television series “Descendants of the Sun,” featuring Song Hye-kyo and Song Joong-ki. The Korean TV series was shot in Zakynthos, a Greek island in the Ionian Sea.

“Greece is an ideal travel destination. I think Korean people are slowly but steadily discovering Greece. … It is true that productions such as the ‘Descendants of the Sun’ and quite recent series ‘Chocolate,’ which I watched partially, that have been shot in Greece partially have rendered Greece more popular to the Korean public,” Greek Ambassador to Korea Ifigeneia Kontoleontos said in an interview with The Korea Herald last month at the embassy in central Seoul.

“Korean media has become more familiar with the new legal framework in Greece, which encourages production in Greece. Therefore, we anticipate to see more K-dramas shot partly or fully in Greece, and accordingly to see a steady rise in Korean tourists.”

She added that the number of Korean tourists bound for Greece had increased tenfold in the past five years, attributing the increase to the hit K-dramas filmed there.

In light of that, the top envoy said, Greece is working to diversify its offerings so that people see it as more than just a summer travel destination. It hopes to develop specialized tourism niches such as religious tourism, wellness-themed tourism, hiking tourism and wine tourism as well.

Kontoleontos joined the Greek Foreign Affairs Ministry in 1986 and has since served in Paris, Ukraine, Russia, UNESCO and the EU.

She was appointed to Seoul in October 2017, and this is her second time as a top diplomat. Previously she was the Greek Ambassador to Algeria from 2014-2017.

Greek Ambassador to Korea Ifigeneia Kontoleontos poses for a photo during an interview with The Korea Herald on Jan. 28 at the Greek Embassy in central Seoul. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
Greek Ambassador to Korea Ifigeneia Kontoleontos poses for a photo during an interview with The Korea Herald on Jan. 28 at the Greek Embassy in central Seoul. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)

Discussing Greece’s economic recovery efforts, she said the country was navigating its way out of the financial crisis by “looking forward.”

“During the financial crisis we looked forward. We reacted, we are reacting and we are doing what has to be done with a will to go forward. We are advancing in a very decisive way,” Kontoleontos said.

On the topic of Seoul-Athens relations, Kontoleontos emphasized next year’s anniversaries: Korea and Greece will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties, which coincides with the 200th anniversary of the start of the 1821-1830 Greek War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire.

The top Greek diplomat pointed to commonalities between Seoul and Athens such as “love of independence” -- alluding to Korea’s fight for independence from Japanese colonial rule -- “love for democracy” and an aesthetic sense that demonstrates a fine balance of complexity and simplicity.

“Korean people learn about Greek history, mythology, culture in school. This creates this wave of communication. … I felt this sense of bond during the exhibition titled The Greeks: From Agamemnon to Alexander the Great,” Kontoleontos said, adding that the two countries also formed a “brotherly link” during the Korean War.

Over 10,500 Greek soldiers were dispatched to fight in the 1950-1953 Korean War, the sixth-largest number of troops from any ally. A total of 186 Greek soldiers sacrificed their lives in the war.

“Even if you are doing well you can always improve … build on real bilateral relationship based on solid foundations. Korea and Greece, both sides are working for an ever-stronger relationship,” she said.

The top envoy, who has reached the halfway point in her tenure here, shared the trajectory she intends to follow for the remainder of her ambassadorship.

“The goal is to do my work and continue working on bilateral relations,” Kontoleontos said.

“Tourism is a very central goal for us, to increase the number of Korean travelers through direct flights and offering more to Korean friends so they can be familiarized with Greece and form an interest. … It is also a goal to have more productions of dramas or film in Greece.” 

By Kim Bo-gyung (lisakim425@heraldcorp.com)
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