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Empty Beaches in Greece Seen After COVID-19 Lockdown Lift

Even the allure of one of Greece's best summer attractions – its famous Blue Flag beaches – might not be enough to bring tourists fearful to travel after lockdowns aimed at preventing the spread of the COVID-19 Coronavirus are lifted, hotel owners fear.

While Tourism Minister Haris Theoharis said he hopes tourists will return in July, with year-round hotels set to reopen on June 1 with new hygiene guidelines, hotel owners said they fear empty rooms and beaches with people afraid to travel yet.

That could undercut a sector that brings in as much as 20 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 184.16 billion euros ($200.3 billion) and is the biggest revenue producer, now needed more than ever.

Greece had 34 million visitors in 2019, continuing a record run of tourism years, bringing in 18 billion euros ($19.58 billion), about 10-12 percent of economic output, and 20 percent of the country's workforce, threatened to be sidelined now.

"Tourism is facing its biggest crisis of our generation," the President of Corfu's hotel association Charalambos Voulgaris, owner of two resorts on the Greek island on the Ionian Sea, told Reuters news agency in a feature on the virus' economic effect.

Long stretches of beach, some dotted with rows of umbrellas, lie empty on Corfu and hoteliers like Voulgaris wonder whether they will open their doors this summer, the news agency said.

A lockdown began March 23 but is set to be gradually eased as of May 4 although hotels will be among the last to reopen, and with strict hygiene protocols that could dampen enthusiasm and confidence even at 5-Star luxury resorts featuring beaches.

The early lockdown helped hold down the number of cases and deaths and health officials don't want that to be reversed and the government said it would monitor any setbacks that might occur when businesses and hotels reopen slowly.

Passenger traffic toe the fabled islands has fallen off 90 percent, said the Passenger Shipping Business Association, and by 59 percent percent for domestic and international flights in March, according to the Civil Aviation Authority.

"We are going to have very low occupancy rates. We don't know if our hotels will open, when they will open, so we are right now on the brink of very hard times," Voulgaris said.

Theoharis said no one knows what will happen after COVID-19. "I guess this is the million-dollar question. We are aiming to open up sometime in July," he told Reuters TV in an interview.

"This season is not going to be like the other years, I would be a fool to believe that this could ever be the case. However, there is a lot that we can do to re-open the tourist economy, the flows," he said. Greece had earlier this year begun to advertise itself as a year-round destination with hopes people would come after the summer and has a platform for virtual tourism to keep people interested while they stay at home during the long lockdowns around the world. 

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