Deadly Fires Not Keeping Tourists Away from Greece

FILE - Tourists take pictures in front of the fifth century BC Parthenon temple at the Acropolis hill in Athens, Wednesday, July 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Wildfires that – combined with people who drowned in the sea trying to escape the flames – killed at least 92 people in Greece isn’t daunting tourists who are still coming in record waves, the German business newspaper Handelsblatt said.

That news came just days after the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) reassured travelers that the country was a safe destination despite blistering criticism that in some areas it is not as the government didn’t have a disaster preparedness or evacuation plan in place.

The paper said Greece may get as many as 35 million visitors this year, more than three times the population, with the sector being the biggest revenue driver for the country as three international bailouts of 326 billion euros ($381.54 million) that will expire on Aug. 20 after eight years.

The paper cited Bank of Greece data of a 35 percent increase in revenue at 1.5 billion euros ($1.76 billion) in the first five months of the year compared to the same period in 2017, due largely to an influx in travelers from Germany, which has put up the bulk of the rescue packages.

German tourists are bringing in some 65 percent of the tourism revenues as Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras long ago backed off demands for more WWII reparations and embraced Chancellor Angela Merkel after mocking her while out of office.

Of the 27 million people who visited Greece last year, 120,000 were from China, the paper said, with the number expected to soar to 500,000 by 2020 with Chinese companies seeking to make more investments in Greece and Chinese airlines expanding service to the country.

Greece was a top choice destination in 2017, while international tour operators such as TUI, Thomas Cook and Neckermann expecting the trend to continue this year despite the tragedy but a major rival, Turkey, on the upswing again despite President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gaining near -dictatorial powers in winning re-election in snap polls he called in June.