After Uneven 2019, Greece Sees New Record 2020 Tourism Year

File- Tourists guides show a map of the Acropolis to tourists in Athens. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

ATHENS – Greece is counting on another big bump in tourism for 2020 after forging ahead with plans to make the country a year-round destination and not just a summer fun playplace, relying on the sector to help speed a nascent recovery from a long fiscal crisis.

Tourism makes up as much as one-fourth of the country’s annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 181.51 billion euros ($200.3 billion,) bringing up to to 45.37 billion euros ($50.07) in critical revenues and as Greece is facing strong challenges from rival tourism countries.

Tourism Minister Harry Theocharis said he expects continued growth despite the 2019 collapse of the British travel giant Thomas Cook, a major packager of group travel that has been a big cog in the industry for Greece.

Tourism also employs about 20 percent of the workforce of about 4.32 million people, with some 1.08 million working in the sector that has enjoyed a string of record seasons that was a critical buffer for the economic and austerity crisis.

Revenues in 2019 grew an estimated 12-15 percent from about 16 billion euros ($17.66 billion) in 2018 on the back of a 4-5 percent rise in arrivals, Theocharis told the Reuters news agency in an interview.

About 33 million tourists visited Greece in 2018, the year that three international bailouts of 326 billion euros ($359.74 billion) ended, although there still hasn’t been a full return to markets despite the successful floating of test bonds.

The impact was initially estimated at 500 million euros ($551.75 million) and there were fears the repercussions would extend through 2020, as New Democracy took power in July 7, 2019 snap elections, ousting the Radical Left SYRIZA.

But Theocharis said the industry filled in the gaps and found other agencies to take over tour packages from Thomas Cook, with Greece still an alluring destination, especially with Athens picking up a buzz as a hot, if grimy, city.

“Despite the ups and downs, the surprises and the hurdles, 2019 rewarded us with a positive result,” he told the news agency. He added: “We are in a position to envision a new year with optimism that Thomas Cook has not left its mark, We expect 2020 will be better than 2019.”

He had also earlier said he wanted to make the country popular for attractions other than sun, sand, islands and beaches, moving into other areas such as sea diving tourism, which is currently restricted because of the many archaeological ruins in Greek waters.

“Greece has a strong brand and can win a big share of the market as long as economic and other conditions allow it.”