ATHENS – While Greek health officials are focused on preventing the spread of the coronavirus and the government has begun closing off public gatherings such as sports arenas, the first economic effects are being seen in hotel booking falling as high tourism season approaches and popular areas seeing fewer visitors.
Conferences are being canceled, deposit payments are being delayed, cancellation policies are being revised and the capital’s hotel occupancy rates are low, with fewer arrivals from abroad, said Kathimerini, the situation likely to get worse.
The loss of conference tourism is a big blow as it’s tied to hotel bookings with one owner telling the paper that 14 groups of foreign visitors abruptly canceled plans to come. There was no indication whether the fears were also tied to Greece being in close proximity to Italy, the hardest-high European Union country, with thousands of cases and hundreds of deaths.
Ferry boats from Italy are being allowed to daily arrive at Patra on the west coast, Greece’s second-largest city, and also at Igoumenitsa, despite that region having the highest number of cases in Greece.
Athens’ most popular tourist area of Plaka, normally buzzing with people even in late winter with spring on the horizon is seeing far fewer with the paper reporting that some streets are empty and restaurants, cafes and bars without many customers, especially at night as many people begin nearly isolating themselves in their homes and making runs on supermarkets.
The chief of one noted Athens hotel who didn’t want to be identified told the paper he fears the worst is yet to come, expecting as much as 80 percent vacancy rates and that a raft of new hotels make not make it just as Greece was recovering and more high-end units opening.
Many of those hotels took out loans and if they fail it would add to the mountain of bad loans that had almost crippled banks from lending during the height of the decade-long crisis that saw Greece rely on on three international bailouts of 326 billion euros ($372.02 billion.)
Many tour operators are reluctant to pay pay deposits for bookings that were already made, as travel companies seek to contain their exposure. “Everyone is trying to pass the risk onto the next link in the chain,” the head of sales at a major firm told the paper.
The Greek Tourism Confederation (SETE) urged hotel owners and others in the tourism sector that is the country’s biggest revenue engine have a flexible policy for cancelations so as to encourage visitors and tour operators to make bookings.