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Economy

Big Bounce Seen for Greek 2021 Tourism, Return of the Visitors

ATHENS — Led by big market returns from the United States and people frantic to shake off COVID-19, Greece has become a favored top spot for 2021 tourism, luring people who are vaccinated or free of the virus.

TUI Group, Europe's largest tour operator, has put Greece ahead of even Spain with the New Democracy government going all out to get people to come to reboot an industry brought down hard in 2020.

Demand for Greece is expected to be even far stronger than hoped for, as much as 75 percent over the record 2019 year, the tour group's expectations higher than government hopes for a 50 percent rebound.

TUI CEO Ebastian Ebel spoke to the newspaper aboard the Mein Schiff 5, a 12-decker cruise liner on May 14 began cruises from Iraklio, Crete, with more than 1,000 passengers anxious to leave the terror behind and travel.

Ebel appeared particularly optimistic about the tourism season in Greece, saying it will triple the intake over 2020, perhaps hordes of visitors returning and anxious to spend and have a good time.

“I believe that Greece and Spain will be the top two tourism destinations in Europe this year. I do not know who will be on top in absolute figures of travelers, but you realize that this will also depend on the hotel capacity on offer,” he told Kathimerini. 

“However, I am quite certain that Greece will benefit from the overall conditions, as well as the positive atmosphere created around them,” he said. That's essential for a country that derives 18-20 percent of its annual Gross Domestic Product of 164.6 billion euros ($200.3 billion from the sector.)

Ebel, head of TUI’s hotel and cruise tourism activities for four years, said Greece could also expect tourists to come during the autumn as the country has pitched itself as a year-round destination with attractions other than islands and beaches.

“We will open every hotel units we either own or manage in Greece. We will open everything. They will not all open at the same time, but they will all open eventually. The situation will be completely normal, unlike last year. Many people might think that we are opening with delay, but we have never started out any earlier than May,” he said.

But he said that the pandemic's effect will change how governments manage tourism, especially countries such as Greece which are dependent on it. 

“The way people buy their packages will change, and what they will get will be more personalized, with experiences such as horse riding, wine tasting etc,” Ebel  said, with culture tourists and older groups favoring other activities over beaches and the islands.

“This activity is still at the preparation stage in Greece for us, but it will soon start developing broadly,” the TUI executive told the newspaper, which could be very good news indeed for cash-starved Greece, the government spending billions to prop up businesses that had been locked down and their workers.

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