As Greece finally reopens to the world on Friday, tourism officials state they are expecting to double the amount of tourists — and revenues — over last year, when the pandemic gutted this vital sector of the economy.
This sector accounts for about one fifth of its economy directly– and undoubtedly much more indirectly.
The Greek island of Mykonos saw the first air arrivals from central Europe on Thursday as the islands opened up to foreign tourists who were either completely vaccinated, tested negative for the virus or could show that they had antibodies against it.
Last year, with a patchwork of lockdowns all over Europe, the Americas and the rest of the world, tourists were shunted away from their favorite Greek tourist destinations after enjoying a booming year for tourism in 2019.
Greece tourism arrivals dipped over 75% in 2020
The Greek economy overall dipped a staggering 8% last year. Tourism revenue, still very much a vital part of the economy despite the country’s desire to diversify, plunged to 4.28 billion euros ($5.0 billion) in 2020 from 18 billion euros ($21 billion) in 2019 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The number of tourist arrivals also fell fell 76.5 percent, to just 7.4 million, according to the Greek Tourism Confederation Institute.
According to the British bank HSBC the anticipated increase in tourism this year is poised to add 2% to Greece’s gross domestic product (GDP), according to a new report released on Thursday.
Despite an overall disappointing year in 2020, Greece managed to eke out nearly a quarter of its usual tourism business from June to November, according to data compiled by the Bank of Greece.
Pan-island vaccination campaign touts safe Summer vacations
The country embarked upon an ambitious program of vaccinating all island residents this past Spring, with the stated goal of inoculating all of them, regardless of age, by June 25.
The perception that Greece is a safe vacation destination is absolutely key, according to Athens-Attica and Argosaronic Hotel Association spokeswoman Lia Falirea, who spoke to Chinese newspaper Xinhua, citing the research that was compiled last summer.
With archeological attractions taking first place among all the reasons why Greece was chosen as a destination, Falirea said that safety was the second most important reason why tourists came to the country in 2020.
Yesterday, Greek Tourism Minister Harry Theoharis stated that “our country has already recovered 33% compared to 2019, while Europe stands around 20%.”
Theoharis has made the reopening of Greece to tourists his number-one priority this past Spring, jetting off to such far-0flung places as Moscow, Russia, Hamburg, Germany and Atlanta in the US, drumming up enthusiasm for a return of tourists to Greece during 2021.
Major tour operators have signed on and airline companies, citing huge increases in the numbers of searches with Greece as the destination, have added a number of new flights to the country.
“All you need is Greece”
This crucial tourist season, the Greek National Tourism Organization (GNTO) is working closely with 18 airlines and 78 different tour operators, employing a new 10.6 million euro advertising campaign with the slogan, “All You Need is Greece.”
Dimitris Frangakis of the GNTO told the press at the official reopening press conference that the GNTO will also employ “smart” online campaigns this year, which cost a total of 12.3 million euros.
However, with the numbers of new coronavirus cases still remaining quite high in the country, with the Attica region still in “red” on the virus map, some officials are less than rosy about a return to normal this summer — or even anything which would approximate half of normal.
Xinhua quotes Greek Tourism Confederation (SETE) President Yiannis Retsos as saying that “based on the latest data and the most recent conditions on the global front of the pandemic and vaccinations, the achievement of 50% of the 2019 revenues we had estimated a few months ago, is a rather ambitious target.”
He said in an emailed statement to the newspaper that expectations should be trending a bit lower than the predictions as set out by other agencies as the last of the pandemic unfolds across the country.
However, it appears that the Greek islands, typical tourist magnets for Germans, Russians Chinese and Americans, are gearing up for a Summer that generates much more revenue than others are predicting. The spokeswoman for the South Aegean Official Initiative for Tourism, Vasia Papailia, told Xinhua “the target for 50% (of 2019 revenues) is a reserved forecast — it may go even higher this year.”
Many hotels are already open, with others waiting to see how arrivals go before they fling open their doors for 2021. Grigoris Tasios, the president of the Panhellenic Hoteliers Federation, told Xinhua approximately 15-20% of Greece’s 10,000 accommodation units are likely to open this month.
However, he sees June as full of promise for he sector, adding that all hotels in the country will have opened for business by the end of June.
Even last year, he said, with an approximately 75% decrease in the number of tourists to the country, fully 58% of hotels opened in the South Aegean. This included the typical tourist destinations such as Santorini, Mykonos and Rhodes. This year, he said, “the signs are particularly encouraging for hoteliers.
“The next couple of weeks will be very important,” Tasios told interviewers, “not only in terms of the pandemic’s course in Greece, but also regarding demand from abroad for the next few months.”