ATHENS -- Tourism businesses in Eastern Macedonia and Thrace prefectures expressed optimism over the number of tourists crossing into Greece from Bulgaria after the borders between the two countries opened on June 15.
Greece is expected to open more borders to inflow tourism on July 1, based on what coronavirus developments, with the exception of Turkey.
Figures from the border stations of Ormenio, Nymfea and Exochi in the region recorded 42,254 people crossing into Greece in the last 10 days (June 15-24). Of these, 23,101 were Bulgarian nationals and 5,953 Romanian, regional police authorities told Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA-MPA).
In Promachonas, NE of Thessaloniki, European nationals enter the country simply by showing identity. There, passport control officials said, an average of 12,000-18,000 people come to Greece on average per day, while registration of Serbian nationals show that the number visiting Greece in the last ten days total 13,211.
Thassos, Samothrace islands
Although the northern Greek tourism sector does not expect visitors to reach the nearly 7 million total in 2019, professionals expressed optimism over the gradual increase of flows. In Thassos and Samothrace islands, for example, local professionals said that reservations for July and August were encouraging. Eastern Macedonia & Thrace Region Deputy Governor Thanassis Tsonis told ANA-MPA that "we obviously do not have - and cannot expect - the numbers of 2019, but the restart that already began after the reopening of the Greek-Bulgarian borders provides a hopeful result; if nothing changes in coronavirus developments, the next few months will reward us."
A similar message was conveyed by Paris Paraschoudis, president of the hotel union on Thassos, who said that despite the hotels opening slowly, over 80 pct will remain open. "The tourists we have are Romanian, Serbs and Bulgarians, both because of proximity and because of the traditional ties we have with these countries," he obseved.
Thassos also expects charter flights from Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, and Poland, as well as the first such flights ever from Lithuania. Last year's figures were over 400,000 visitors to the island, with an average stay of 4-5 days, Paraschoudis said.
Samothrace reported lower reservations compared to capacity but the daily boat link with the mainland and the low-priced, subsidized ticket price is expected to bring more tourists to the island, Thrace hotel union president Apostolos Palakidis said.
In addition, Greek National Tourism Organization head for Romania, Bulgaria and Ukraine George Stafilakis said that inflows from Romania - where northern Greece figures as the most popular destination abroad - are also expected as of July to early September. He also noted an exceptional tripling of single tourist reservations compared to 2019.
On the other hand, Central Macedonia Region's head of tourism, Alexandros Thanos, said that the first people to arrive from abroad in the first ten days of open borders are those who own vacation homes in Greece. The region, he said, "has the comparative advantage of the road networks," but he registered concern over a possible rise in virus cases.
Asked for his outlook over the summer, he said, "I think we will have a clearer picture about how the market will move during the first fortnight of July."