ATHENS – With tourist arrivals and spending ranging up to 75 percent in Greece in 2021 compared to the record year of 2019, those who came from outside the European Union opened their wallets and handbags and spent more.
With limited visitors from major markets such as the United Kingdom, Greece banked on taking a chance to open in July and allow Americans locked out during the 2020 lockdown when the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Data from Global Blue, a tax rebate company, showed that those from non-EU countries spent 32 percent more on average on their tax-free purchases than in 2019, before a record run of consecutive years was snapped.
While Greece is trying to lure tourists year round, that effect could take a hit now however as bookings are dropping off and being canceled in the autumn as the pandemic has surged with record numbers, scaring off visitors.
Still, until now, the revenue picture was brighter than anticipated. In some areas, such as the popular island of Santorini, average spending on tax-free purchases per tourist more than doubled compared to 2019, rising by 116 percent, said Kathimerini in a report.
The reason is that the profile of tourists showed they were wealthier, Greece especially attractive to the Uber-rich and celebrities whose presence became a magnet for others when publicized and glorified.
The revenues of commercial companies and the Greek economy in general may increase further from tourism expenditure if the digitization of the process for the validation of receipts for tax rebates proceeds instead of having it done at customs offices, Manthos Dimopoulos, Global Blue Hellas’ Managing Director, told the paper.
He noted that Greece had the highest recovery of revenues from tax-free purchases in the EU in 2021 and the peak season for tourism, from June to September, showed that tax-free shopping was 77 percent of the purchases made in the same period in 2019.
“The missing 23% is the purchases Chinese tourists used to make before the pandemic, but they did not visit our country this year,” explained Dimopoulos.
“Greece’s performance this year has bettered that of all major players, such as France, Spain and Italy. The average rate of tax-free purchase revenues in the EU stood at just 38 percent this year,” he said.
The most visitors came from the United States, Russia, Israel and in limited numbers from the UK because they faced health restrictions on returning and had an arduous protocol to follow.
Some 31 percent of purchases was made by Americans, including those from the Diaspora frantic to get back their family’s homeland after being shut out in 2020, followed by Russians at 12 percent and Israelis at 8 percent, the paper said.
“What we witnessed this summer was that travelers were wealthier and got to spend more, driving the average spending per person higher,” said the head of Global Blue in Greece.
The boom is unlikely to last as last-minute cancellations of bookings for holidays in Greece are on the rise over the pandemic, according to data from the Institute of the Greek Tourism Confederation (INSETE.)
In September, air seat bookings were 80 percent of those in 2019 but fell to 57.5 percent in October, the group finding that bookings minus cancelations showed a 47.9 percent loss, continuing through November.