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Despite Heatwave, Pandemic, Wildfires, Tourists Coming to Greece

ATHENS – Amid scenes of thousands of people fleeing their homes as wildfires swept across Greece – during a heatwave and the lingering COVID-19 pandemic – tourists are showing no signs of shying away from coming.

The government had hoped for at least 50 percent of arrivals and revenues from a record 2019 after the wipeout year of 2020, even though some countries put restrictions on their residents who would face quarantine on return if they vacationed in Greece.

With Americans blocked out in 2020 coming by the scores of thousands, including the Greek-American community, and an influx of French, Germans, Swiss and Poles, Greece's summer of 2021 is shaping up to be better than hoped.

 Large hotels in Greece’s most popular destinations report occupancy rates equal to or higher than the pre-pandemic 2019, and compared to 2020, with a big bounce in June when the doors were opened, continuing into July, said Kathimerini.

That was before the fires and heat hit in August, still going on, at one point the flames north of Athens so bad that smoke covered the capital for days, bringing warnings not to go outside without surgical masks, especially downtown or around popular tourist sites like the Acropolis, that was blanketed.

Tourism professionals, however, are said to be anxious that the numbers will fall because of August's succession of phenomena although before then the number of international arrivals, including celebrities, had jumped, as was passenger traffic on ferries to islands in the Cyclades.

As Greece has moved to try to make tourism a year-round destination, the sector also is hoping that people will come in September and October, when it's not  so hot and the numbers are fewer.

Images of the wildfires that have gone around the world have brought worry about a staggered effect of a downturn in arrivals, especially those who wait until the last minute before deciding to travel to other countries.

The US State Department had also warned that Greece was too risky to visit because of a surge in Coronavirus cases brought by the Delta Variant but didn't bar Americans from going.

Passenger locator forms Kathimerini obtained from the Tourism Ministry showed that tourist arrivals in July were just over 2.36 million, compared to 3.6 million in 2019 and 1.4 million in 2020. Since the start of the tourism season in May, Greece has received 3.7 million visitors, little more than 10 percent in 2019.

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