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Economy

Dampened Tourism Hopes Set Off Greek Joblessness Jitters

With Greece's seasonal hotels set to resume on June 15, joining year-round hotels that opened June 1 as a lockdown aimed at preventing the spread of the COVID-19 Coronavirus began being lifted, owners are still waiting for bookings to rise.

Almost half of the 600,000 employees in Greece’s tourism and food business will lose their jobs this year because of a massive drop in tourism, George Chotzoglou, Chairman of the employees’ organization for hotel workers told the business  site Bloomberg.

“There are no reservations until July 20,” Chotzoglou said. Even if some hotels open for a couple of months after that, many seasonal workers “will have to live over the next 12 months on 2,800 euros ($3,136) in the best-case scenario and 1,200 euros ($1355) in the worst case,” he said.

Tourism is the catalyst, a sector that in 2019 saw 34 million people bringing in some 19 billion euros ($20.9 billion) in revenues but with fears the numbers could fall as much as 70 percent this year with people afraid to travel even after lockdowns end.

The industry employs 850,000 workers with the government pumping in 17.5 billion euros ($19.25 billion) in 800-euro ($880.08) in benefits to workers laid off during the lockdown and businesses subsidized to keep them from going under.

“But tourists will only travel to Greece if they feel it’s safe. Safety must include social distancing, effective and immediate treatment of those who become sick, and contact tracing,” said two Greek heritage analysts for Fortune magazine, William J. Antholis and Filippos Letsas.

Vangelis Giakoumis, a hotel bartender in the seaside Athens neighborhood of Glyfada told the news agency is he worried about his livelihood that depends on mixing drinks and getting tips, with hygiene protocols disallowing the use of bars.

Greece is only now beginning to welcome back international visitors, with flights set to restart June 15 under varying rules based on airport of origin.

“Reservations have been slow, hotels are waiting to see what happens with international flights,” Giakoumis said. “How many flights will there be, will tourists arrive in any real numbers?”

Most hotels are still waiting to see whether reopening is worthwhile given the cost of meeting health measures and limitations on customers who have to be seated further apart and public gatherings not allowed, although already widely ignored.

In Glyfada, all the employees at the family-run hotel where Giakoumis works, some 30 people, remain on standby, paid only through a state-funded furlough program. If forecasts are correct, many hotel workers will never go back, the report said.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, whose government received widespread praise for    a March 23 lockdown before a single death that was credited with holding down the number of cases and fatalities now has to worry about a falling economy.

The country was just beginning to accelerate a recovery from a near decade-long crisis in which harsh austerity was imposed in return for three international bailouts of 326 billion euros ($368.1 billion) before COVID-19 hit the world.

Joblessness had fallen to 16.1% in February from a record high 27% at the peak of the crisis that saw nearly half those under 25 without work and scores of thousands fleeing to other countries looking for jobs and a better life.

Te government is planning to lower the 40% social security contributions employers and workers currently have to pay, with an initial reduction kicking in on June 1. Mitsotakis, who announced a 5 percent cut by the end of 2023 before the pandemic began, has set this as a key priority for boosting employment.

Mitsotakis said his government will spend the summer analyzing how to best use the 32 billion euros ($36.13 billion) in loans and grants the European Commission has proposed to support employment in the country, the report also added.

“Greece fared well in its handling of the Coronavirus compared to other tourist destinations,” Giakoumis said. “Hopefully the country can capitalize on this image to attract tourists this year, but especially in 2021.”

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