ATHENS – The COVID-19 pandemic aside, Greece – which has turned its attention toward accelerating an economic recovery two years after it started – will open officially to tourists on March 7 and looks for a banner year.
Tourism Minister Vassilis Kikilias said, “There is great demand and great dynamic for Greek tourism in 2022 … big tour operators, big airline companies, want to prolong the period,” through the end of the year, said Reuters.
In 2020, when COVID hit, lockdowns and the near-cessation of international air travel essentially wiped out tourism, after Greece had been on a record run of consecutive years.
There were only 7 million visitors that year compared to 33 million in 2019 and revenues plummeted to only 4 billion euros ($4.53 billion,) about a fourth of what the sector usually brings in.
Tourism accounts for as much as 18-20 percent of the annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 177 billion euros ($200.3 billion) and had employed nearly a million workers at its peak.
There was a slight recovery in 2021 when the tourism season began in May during the pandemic and brought in 10.5 billion euros ($11.88 billion) for the year, a critical boost in revenues.
“There are strong signs for Greek tourism,” Kikilias told the news agency in an interview as the country has moved toward trying to be a year-round destination, not just for sun and sand and summer and the islands.
The think tank IOBE, in its quarterly economi review in January said that tourism will spur growth of as much as 5 percent this year and that it will bring in up to 90 percent of the 18 billion euros ($20.37 billion) in 2019.
The New Democracy government has scaled back health restrictions and will ease them further beginning March 1 despite record numbers of deaths from COVID and won’t require a negative Coronavirus test for tourists from a number of countries, including the United States.
“Greece is open to everybody, from today. But the actual season, the summer season, is starting for us on March 1 this year,” Kikilias said.
“After this huge crisis of global public health, people tend to want to travel, enjoy their vacations, spend money, and I think Greece is in pole position,” Kikilias said. “Yes, the pandemic is still here but we have weapons to fight it – vaccination, new drugs,” he said.