Τourism Minister Haris Theoharis expressed optimism on Friday at the Delphi Economic Forum that everything will go well this year, responding to those who express concerns for further spread of the novel coronavirus through tourism. Greece has officially reopened to international tourism, on Friday May 14, hoping to regain at least 50% of the 2019 revenues and visitors. The official announcement was made on Thursday during an event at Cape Sounio.
Last year, the number of visitors to Greece plummeted by 78.2% to 7.4 million – from a record 34 million in 2019, with a corresponding drop in tourism revenues.
Greece is following the example of its Mediterranean neighbors, that also rushed to lift the restrictions and open the international travel, despite that high rate of coronavirus cases and the low vaccination rates.
In his address at the Delhi Forum, Minister Theoharis criticized those who believe that tourism is to blame for the pandemic, noting that such an argument is to discredit the country. This year, the Ministry of Tourism is building on the experience of the past, always in the field of health insurance and with concrete measures responds to new challenges, he said. In fact, Theoharis focused on the way in which our country will receive its visitors as of Friday, where the following will now be required: completion of the PLF one day before departure, vaccination certificate, PCR test up to 72 hours before, certificate of recovery, activation of the Green Pass from 01/06.
On Friday, Greece confirmed 2,188 new coronavirus infections, 56 deaths and 677 in ICUs nationwide, while it is predicted that some areas will continue to be in the red, due to the Greek Easter feast. At the same time Greece has vaccinated 4.08 million people with at least one dose while 1.41 million (13.2%) are completely vaccinated. The government prioritizes inhabitants of the tourist islands and people employed in the tourist industry.
In his speech at the forum, Tourism Minister of Tourism conveyed optimistic news from the front of international markets, stating that in Britain, despite the fact that Greece is in the “orange”, our country is the 3rd country in bookings, indicative of the interest that the British have for holidays in Greece. At the same time, the news from the USA is very encouraging, where Greece is the 1st European country in bookings.
In any case, forecasts for the development of tourist flows are difficult at this time, however Theoharis expressed his optimism that there will be an extension of the tourist season in the fall. After reiterating that this year will be judged on last minute bookings, Theoharis underlined that GNTO is already running an extensive advertising program.
Greek National Tourism Organization (GNTO) Secretary General Dimitris Fragakis also addressed the Delphi Economic Forum VI. Speaking at the panel titled “The crown jewel of the Greek economy at a crossroads” on the day tourism reopened in the country, Fragakis noted that although the industry’s reopening is the result of two-months-long planning, there is a long road ahead.
Despite the fact that Greece’s tourism sector experienced a “shock” from the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 a safe reopening this year is possible because of several new tools: vaccines, the so-called ‘green’ vaccination certificate, and abundant diagnostic tests available to all.
This year’s tourism campaign is the biggest in a decade at a cost of at least 23 million euros, and is expected to result in bookings to Greece even if they are last-minute ones. Whereas the country’s tourism industry pursued a strategy for mere survival in 2020, this year it has implemented a strategy for recovering its losses, the official said.
As Fragakis also pointed out, bookings would be helped by an extended tourist season, which due to weather conditions in Greece can stretch to October.
Main opposition SYRIZA-Progressive Alliance spokesperson Nassos Iliopoulos pointed out the need for the economy and tourism to restart after a failed lockdown that cost over 10,800 lives, speaking to Real FM radio on Friday.
He clarified that “the main problem for the restart of tourism and the success of the season is the lack of plan from the government both at financial support and regulations and observation of the health protocols and support to public health”.
“Like last year, this year Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis acts like a tourist and expects summer to arrive without preplanning and the good weather to resolve the pandemic problem,” the spokesperson said, attacking the government also for lack of essential support of the National Health System and primary healthcare.
AT CAPE SOUNIO
Tourism Minister Harry Theoharis and Greek National Tourism Organization (GNTO) chief Dimitris Fragakis presented some of the main points of the government’s plan for Friday’s reopening to international tourism during an event at Cape Sounio on Thursday evening.
The officials said that Greece will be promoted as a tourist destination under the motto “All you want is Greece”, that will include 5 new videos.
As Fragakis explained, it is the first time that GNTO will work with 18 airlines and 76 tour operators on a promotional plan budgeted at 10.6 million euros, besides ‘smart’ digital campaigns, budgeted at 12.3 million euros.
In addition, a new GNTO platform under the existing name Visit Greece went live on Thursday. It will be presented in more detail in the near future, Fragakis revealed.
Minister Theoharis underlined, on his part, that Greece has raised a wall of security in terms of the coronavirus pandemic, with five different levels of defense. These five are included in a protocol for arrivals to Greece and include the following:
a. A PLF one day before departure
b. Vaccination certificate
c. PCR test up to 72 hours before
d. Certificate of recovery
e. Activation of the Green Pass from 01/06
add 2% to GDP
HSBC expects a rebound in Greek tourism that will bolster the country’s gross domestic product, although that depends on five key factors that will determine the course of the season. The British lender notes in an analysis that tourism constitutes an essential economic pillar in this country as well as the rest of the European South. The HSBC baseline scenario, with zero international tourism up to May, is for 2021 tourism flows to South Europe to be slightly higher than in 2020, but remain 50-60% below the 2019 level (from -60% to -75% last year). Next year revenues are projected to come in 5-10% below the 2019 takings.
Tourism is even more important for Greece than for rival destinations: HSBC estimates that the return of tourists will give the GDP of Spain and Portugal a 1% boost, while Greece will get an additional 2%. It adds that last year’s poor tourism season shaved 6% off Greece’s GDP.
As tourists return in droves next year, the GDP gains for Greece are projected at 4%, not ruling out an even greater rebound of the sector.
The rebound of tourism will depend on a number of factors, HSBC points out: They are vaccine availability, the cost of PCR tests (for those not inoculated), the level of Covid cases at destinations, the conditions at rival destinations such as Turkey and in key markets such as the UK, and the level of demand.
The British bank cites the example of a four-member family from the UK that has not been vaccinated and wishes to travel to Greece this summer: They will have to pay more than 1,000 pounds in total for their tests, as each family member must get tested twice – i.e. before their departure and after their return.
Nevertheless TUI is offering a test package (with two tests) to each customer costing just 60 pounds.
THE AP ON THE REOPENING
In an article titled “Greece joins Mediterranean race to win back tourists”, signed by Derek Gatopoulos and Thanassis Stavrakis, Associated Press presents the re-opening of Greece to tourism.
“In her kitchen, Kyriaki Kapri has enough food to feed an army. Piles of squid for frying, lemons to be quartered, thumb-thick potato wedges to make oregano-sprinkled French fries, and seafood for the dishes famous on the Greek island of Naxos.
She’s done everything she can think of to prepare for tourists at her Naxos beachside restaurant Gorgona – Greek for Mermaid – but customers are still a rare sight.
Greece launched its tourism season Friday amid a competitive scramble across the Mediterranean to lure vacationers emerging from lockdowns.
“We’re all vaccinated, the tables are outside and spread out, with hand sanitizers on each one. We’re ready. Now we wait,” Kapri said, standing beside large display cabinets with fresh fish on beds of crushed ice. During a six-month lockdown, Gorgona closed for the first time in its 50-year history.
The European Union has yet to roll out its cellphone-friendly travel pass system. But southern member-states, driven deeper into debt by the pandemic and highly dependent on tourism revenues, are not waiting.
Croatia has already reopened, as has Cyprus, joined Friday by Greece where residents were allowed to leave home without an electronic permit for the first time in six months.
Greece is hoping to claw back half the 2019 visitor level. It’s vowed to finish vaccinating its entire island population over the next six weeks and will even waive test requirements for tourists who have received vaccines made in Russia and China that are not approved for use domestically.
Other Mediterranean countries are also looking for an edge.
Malta is promising visitors vouchers to go diving and cash rebates to high-end hotel customers.
In Turkey, visitors from abroad have been exempt from stay-at-home orders applying to Turks, thus enjoying an empty Istanbul, and little-populated beach resorts. Starting Monday, travelers from China, Britain, Australia, and 13 other countries will be allowed in without even having to present a negative Covid-19 test.
Portugal is the only southern European country to so far make Britain’s so-called Green List of quarantine-free destinations. Travelers in the UK pounced on the news, according to Emma Coulthurst from holiday price comparison site TravelSupermarket.
“Week-on-week, if you compare all package holiday price comparison searches via TravelSupermarket, the site has seen an 865% increase in searches for package holidays to Portugal,” Coulthurst said.
In neighboring Spain, Trade and Tourism Minister Reyes Maroto said her government was in “constant” consultations with Britain to try to have its travel status upgraded. Some 18 million UK holidaymakers traveled to Spain in 2019.
Italy is expected to drop a five-day quarantine requirement for travelers from the EU, Britain and Israel this weekend, but many in the hospitality industry are still bracing for another tough year.
“I think [tourism] is going to increase but very slowly. For this year we have to accept whatever comes,” said Elisabetta Menardi, manager of the Ca’ Foscolo apartment hotel in Venice.
Just a short walk from the famed Rialto bridge, the hotel is usually fully booked year-round but is currently running at 20% occupancy.
“Normally in January we already get a lot of reservations for the summer. That has stopped. So we don’t know what’s coming now,” Menardi said. “People make reservations, then they cancel. It’s kind of a dance.”