Mon, 21 Jun 2021

by George Georgakopoulos

ATHENS, May 14 (Xinhua) -- Greece is formally opening its gates to tourism on Friday, expecting to double the amount of visitors and revenues it had last year, according to tourism officials and experts. This sector accounts for about a fifth of its economy.

The arrival of the first charter flights from central Europe on Friday coincided with the easing of restrictions against the novel coronavirus.

Greece aspires to build on last year's unexpected success of securing more than 6 million tourist arrivals and over 4 billion euros (4.84 billion U.S. dollars) in revenues amid the pandemic.

The anticipated tourism increase is set to add 2 percent to Greece's gross domestic product (GDP) this year, according to a report released on Thursday by the British bank HSBC.

The safe opening of tourism last year between the first and the second wave of the pandemic in Europe, i.e. from June to November, led to Greece recovering 23.5 percent of its record arrivals and revenues of 2019, according to data from the Bank of Greece.

In late April 2021, the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) handed Greece the "Global Champion Award for COVID-19 Crisis Management."

This safety factor has been an acquired key asset for Greece, the Athens-Attica and Argosaronic Hotel Association spokeswoman Lia Falirea told Xinhua, citing the association's research last summer.

Falirea said safety was the second most important reason tourists chose Greece last year, only after archaeological attractions.

The signs are very positive for 2021, according to the Greek government. Referring to the bookings in place for this summer, Tourism Minister Harry Theoharis stated on Thursday that "our country has already recovered 33 percent compared to 2019, while Europe stands around 20 percent."

The immediate, tangible proof of interest is the agreements for the expansion of cooperation with major tour operators as well as the increase in flights with more frequent services, Theoharis told an official event launching the tourism season.

The Greek National Tourism Organization (GNTO) is this year cooperating with 18 airlines and 78 tour operators to advertise Greece in a campaign budgeted at 10.6 million euros, GNTO Secretary General Dimitris Fragakis told the event.

The organization will also run smart online campaigns with a total budget of 12.3 million euros, added Frangakis.

The local industry remains cautious, due to the unknown factor of the pandemic's course. Greek Tourism Confederation (SETE) President Yiannis Retsos considers that "based on the latest data and the most recent conditions on the global front of the pandemic and vaccinations, the achievement of 50 percent of the 2019 revenues we had estimated a few months ago, is a rather ambitious target."

Expectations and plans for the 2021 takings will have to move on a lower level, and will obviously depend on the course of the pandemic and the vaccinations around the world, he said in an emailed statement.

There is more optimism in South Aegean, the Greek region with the biggest number of visitors. Vasia Papailia, the spokeswoman for the South Aegean Official Initiative for Tourism, told Xinhua that "the target for 50 percent [of the 2019 revenues] is a reserved forecast, it may go even higher this year."

Hotels will open gradually, given the small demand at this stage, with about 15-20 percent of Greece's 10,000 units likely to open this month, Grigoris Tasios, the president of the Panhellenic Hoteliers Federation, told Xinhua. However, he expects all hotels to have opened for business by the end of June.

Papailia added that last year 58 percent of hotels opened in the South Aegean, including very popular destinations such as Santorini, Mykonos and Rhodes, and this summer "the signs are particularly encouraging for hoteliers."

These signs are crucial for the planning of the industry: "The next couple of weeks will be very important," Tasios said, "not only in terms of the pandemic's course in Greece, but also regarding demand from abroad for the next few months." (1 euro = 1.21 U.S. dollars)

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