A British hotelier in Crete, like many other owners of small businesses up and down the country, has decided to keep his property shuttered this summer.
As Greece begins to relax its restrictions and prepare for the arrival of outsiders, Benjamin Wylie-Black tells Greek Reporter that he “had to take the very difficult decision to not open the 23-bedroom independent hotel for this year.”
“We toiled with this decision for a long time,” he admits. “We now have zero income for 2020, although we will still have the expenses of electricity and the community taxes, living rents and costs and that all-important food bill.”
Wylie-Black is the owner of the Home Hotel, located 3 km (1.8 miles) from the heart of Hersonissos, known for its dynamic nightlife, its many scenic charms and wonderful beaches.
“We had to tell five members of staff that we cannot offer them employment for 2020 and they will now have to struggle and fight for the diminished job offers that everyone else is now competing for,” he says, explaining how the coronavirus outbreak has dealt a severe blow to the Cretan economy.
“Here on Crete, many of the kafeneions and tavernas have decided to remain closed, choosing to wait for the arrival of the outsiders because, truth be told, the Greeks have little to no money and any money they do have is going to be spent on food for their table or seeds for planting on their plots of land,” he notes.
Explaining his decision to keep the hotel shut this entire summer, Wylie-Black says that “With the restrictions implemented we would have a season of unhappy guests who have rooms that go uncleaned, bedding that goes unchanged and food handed to them from behind plastic shields.”
“We would have staff in masks and gloves trying desperately to combine breathing and not leaking sweat into the food as they stand in temperatures that often rise above 40 degrees in the shade, all the while offering that heart-melting Greek smile that is hidden by the mask of segregation. Nothing says ‘Welcome to our lovely country.’”
The other major obstacle, he tells Greek Reporter, is that tourists must now self quarantine for 7 days after arrival at their destination hotel, even if they have tested negative for COVID-19.
“So, unless the outsiders are here for more than 7 days, the owners of the shops, bars, taxis, restaurants, beaches and the rest of the country will be standing watching the tumbleweed blowing down the road and past them whilst they worry about the electricity meter that has not stopped turning and the rent for their business that is not going down because of a lack of tourists.”
Wylie-Black argues that although the Greek government has done much to help the majority of the population by extending the winter unemployment benefits, as well as offering discounts for business rent and tax breaks, “this is not enough.”
This is especially true, he notes, for small business owners who have been closed during the necessary lockdown. The 800-euro compensation for not being open for the three-month lockdown “does not go very far if you are also a seasonal business owner who is now in the ninth month of unemployment.”
Wylie-Black opened his hotel on Crete in 2016. He describes his property as a cozy hotel with an all-welcome mentality. But he shares his frustration that although he has been contributing to the local economy each year, Greece does not offer his business financial aid in these times of need.
“For four years we have been paying into the system all the while and employing locals and paying their social security contributions and buying supplies from local businesses, we have been contributing to the local economy… Unfortunately, this does not translate to an entitlement to financial aid in times of need.”
But what is the solution? The British hotelier says simply that a huge cash injection into the economy is what is most required.
His advice to the Greek government is to “Let your populations maintain the economy and keep it going for a little longer so we are in a stronger position when the 2021 season comes and the hordes of tourists who have delayed their holidays for this year arrive with their white skin and mosquito sprays and find the warm, welcoming embrace of the Greeks that is world-famous.”
The alternative, he argues, is too grim to contemplate.
“The alternative is to muddle along as we are, paying peanuts to the masses and nothing to the self-employed and business owners so that, when the next season arrives and the outsiders get off the planes, they will be greeted by a dystopia of locked up hotels, to ‘For Rent’ signs on most of the shopfronts and only the sickening glow of the All Inclusive hotels that have managed to survive another season by keeping their guests locked in their rooms and complexes.”