All You Want is Greece.
That's the motto to lure tourists during the lingering COVID-19 pandemic – those who are vaccinated or not infected – as the New Democracy government rolled out the biggest ad campaign in a decade to convince people to come.
The tourist season officially opened May 15 to people who can prove they are virus-free although they'll have to abide by the rapidly relaxed health measures that now is pretty much just wearing masks.
Restaurants had opened with outdoor dining and customers will be allowed into eateries and bars on June 1, the outreach program featuring the beckoning islands that have proved a siren's song in the past, even more now.
People crazy to get away from the Coronavirus terror and lockdown fatigue after often being limited to their house or going out for only allowed missions and not public gatherings are the targets of the drive to get them to Greece.
“We are putting the lockdown behind us,” is the message being sent out at the same time there are still some 1200 cases and dozens of deaths daily but with a vaccination campaign being ramped up cutting into the numbers.
The government's shiny video shows prospective tourists dreaming of escaping to the sun for a natural tan and tasting "real food,” the irresistible Greek diet of fresh vegetables, olive oil, salads, grilled meat, squid and octopus.
German tourists have begun flying in, the BBC said, along with Americans and hordes of Greek-Americans locked out during the dangerous 2020 when the pandemic spread as fast as the fear it brought.
The United Kingdom, a big market for Greece, has advised people Greece isn't safe – as did the US despite Greece being designated as safe by the European Union on a so-called green list.
There are far fewer restrictions now in Greece which wanted to roll them back so that tourists wouldn't be deterred by conditions that could have seen them quarantined or kept in their hotel rooms.
A curfew that saw restaurants close at 11 at night has been extended to 12:30 a.m. to attract people and help restaurants closed more than half the previous year as the Coronavirus stampeded across the country.
In 2020, the number of visitors to Greece plummeted by 78.2 percent to 7.4 million — from a record 34 million in 2019 — according to official data, with a corresponding drop in tourism revenues.
I'LL HAVE SQUID
Money from tourists brings in as much as 18-20 percent of the annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 164.6 billion ($200.3 billion) and had employed close to one million people before the pandemic hit.
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, reported the Associated Press and Euronews.
She’s done everything she can think of to prepare for tourists at beachside restaurant Gorgona — Greek for Mermaid — but customers are still a rare sight.
“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, a pattern seen across Greece including the nearby island of Mykonos and Santorini, the two most popular.
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.
"We are opening our tourist industry to the world," Tourism Minister Haris Theoharis announced in front of the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion outside Athens when he kicked off the campaign.
Visitors from a list of 53 approved countries must fill in a passenger locator form (PLF) the day before travel, listing where they are staying and supplying a vaccine certificate, a negative PCR test or a documentation of recent recovery
The rules are a precursor to the EU-wide digital certificate that is scheduled to help free up travel by the end of June.
"I really believe that the government has made a good effort and I think that if the measures are followed and the vaccinations keep going as they already are, I think tourism will go better than last year," said Katerina Vlachou Aaldea, a hotel owner on Santorini.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)