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Big Tourism Wave Carrying Greece to Safe Harbor, Big Bucks

ATHENS – While it might narrowly miss setting a record during the waning COVID-19 pandemic, tourism in Greece remains so strong in 2022, even into the autumn, that it’s providing critical revenues to subsidize energy bills and rejuvenate the economy.

Helped by a strong U.S. dollar and Europeans’ pent-up demand to go on vacation, it’s a stronger comeback from the pandemic slump than many expected, with Greece leading the way in Europe after essentially ending health measures.

Greece also has benefitted from Rich Tourism – the wealthy, super-wealthy, and Uber-wealthy love the country’s growing luxury resorts and 5-star hotels with the kind of amenities they’ve come to expect and they’ve been pouring in and opening their deep pockets to spend.

The New Democracy government hopes the year will break the 20-billion euro ($19.98 billion) mark and top the 33 million arrivals who came in 2019 before the coronavirus struck, especially to help offset raging inflation.

It was luxury vacations, especially island hopping on yachts, that fared best in Greece in 2022. Week-long holiday trips around islands of the Aegean aboard Stelios Zompanakis’ yacht were in demand all summer. And he was booked solid through October.

“People after COVID (-19), after two years of frustration and probably, you know, putting some money aside, they decided they should have vacation,” Zompanakis told the Associated Press.

“I think the income of the budgets that they were willing to spend rose, so that also brought, let’s say, more quality guests to Greece and people asking for something more than just an all-inclusive experience. And this helped Greece a lot,” he also added.

Greece is using funds to help struggling businesses and households facing financial pressures from both the cost-of-living and the energy crisis, paying up to 90 percent of electric bills that doubled after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine spiked prices fast.

In Athens’ historic Plaka district, tourists in October are still packing the narrow streets, crowding around tourist shops for souvenirs, but the government said there’s not enough money to cut a 24 percent Value Added Tax (VAT) on food despite that.

But tourism is propelling overall growth that could exceed 6 percent this year and is the country’s biggest revenue engine, bringing in as much as 20 percent of the annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 216.48 billion euros ($216.2 billion) and tourists expected all year round now.

Greece’s major port of Piraeus, operated by the Chinese management firm COSCO, saw a 28.02 percent increase in revenues in the first nine months of 2022, thanks largely to more cruise ships docking.

The Piraeus Port Authority (PPA) said that amounted to 145.8 million euros ($145.64 million) compared to 113.8 million euros ($113.68 million) in 2021 when recovery from the still ongoing COVID-19 pandemic was slow.

But the New Democracy government essentially ended health restrictions this year to lure tourists and COSCO’s efforts to modernize the port – in the face of resistance from local businesses not wanting competition – paid off.

Gross profit was 83.1 million euros ($83.01 million) in the same period, up from 55.8 million euros ($55.74 million) in the first nine months of 2021, a hike of 46.06 percent, said the Chinese news agency Xinhua.

“The number of cruise ships that called at the port in the first nine months of 2022 is up by 87.9 percent compared to the first nine months of 2021 (511 versus 272),” PPA said.

A 207.6 percent increase in passengers in the first nine months of 2022, compared to the same period in 2021 (632,642 passengers compared to 205,700 in 2021), was recorded, the report said.

China’s COSCO Shipping acquired the majority of PPA shares in 2016 after an international tender. The company’s subsidiary, PCT, has managed the port’s container terminals since 2009.

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