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Greece and Portugal Vying to Become Safest Tourist Destination in Europe

NEW YORK – As the global pandemic seems to be winding down in some areas of the world, Greece and Portugal are vying to become the safest tourist destination in Europe, CNN reported on June 16, adding that both EU countries “which this week opened their doors wider to international visitors, are trumpeting relatively low infection rates and widespread measures to keep the virus in check.”

Both countries also “face financial peril unless they can persuade the tourists to come,” CNN reported, noting that “Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa believes his country remains as attractive as ever, but has launched a new campaign highlighting its safety.”

“All the reasons to visit Portugal are still here so tourists are welcome," he told CNN, adding that “we are among the countries that tested the most, we're one of the countries that better knows the real spread of the virus, where the numbers are the safest and where people can come with confidence. Confidence will be one of the differentiating factors at the moment of choosing where to go on holidays — I think that Portugal is a good destination.”

Prime Minister of Greece Kyriakos Mitsotakis echoed those sentiments about the homeland and said that “his country's top priority is safety as this week it opens seasonal hotels to visitors from across Europe,” CNN reported, “I am not interested in making Greece the number one destination in Europe, I am interested in making Greece the safest destination in Europe.”

Greece had “considerably fewer virus fatalities than Portugal,” CNN reported, noting that “Greece is being hailed as one of the safest countries for holidaymakers in the Mediterranean this summer. It's seen under 200 deaths from COVID-19 and a little over 3,000 cases in a population of 11 million.”

Portugal also “has one of Europe's lowest death tolls from COVID-19 — 1,520 fatalities among a population of fewer than 11 million — and the government hopes its handling of the pandemic will help the country beat out other nations as it tries to convince would-be travelers to visit,” CNN reported.

In Greece “about 90% of tourism revenue comes from international visitors,” CNN reported, adding that “the country will be lucky to see anywhere near the 33 million visitors, bringing an estimated $20 billion, that it received in 2019,” with the slow start to this year’s season which usually would already have begun to see crowds enjoying the  breathtaking beaches.

The gradual reopening includes the period “until June 30, during which international passenger flights will only be allowed to enter Greece via its two main airports in Athens and Thessaloniki,” CNN reported, adding that “direct international flights to the country's many tourism destinations will resume as of July 1,” and “ferries from other countries will also be permitted to dock from July.”

Tourists from “a list of dozens of countries with low infection rates can now enter Greece, subject to random tests,” and “the list is expected to be extended by July,” while “those arriving from airports that are on a ‘black list’ of high transmission areas compiled by the EU's Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) have to test and must quarantine overnight pending results,” CNN reported.

“Even if the results are negative, travelers arriving from high risk areas will have to self-quarantine for a week at their arrival destination,” CNN reported of Greece’s safety measures, adding that “those who test positive will be quarantined for up to 14 days.”

Safety is key since the tourism industry in Greece “accounts for more than 20% of the country's GDP and one in four jobs,” CNN reported.

In Portugal safety measures include “the introduction of hygiene certification to designate tourist facilities as ‘clean and safe,’ and for hotels, there must be “a contracted physician on call” and employees must be tested regularly, CNN reported, adding that “at popular destinations ‘COVID-19 rooms,’ or in some cases designated hotels, have been set aside to quarantine anyone testing positive for the virus.”

On the Ionian Island of Lefkada, Odysseas Christofides, owner of the Pavezzo Country Retreat, told CNN, “People want to travel but they want to make sure they minimize exposure. They want to know that once they arrive at their final destination they will have space to social distance and feel safe.”

Christofides “estimates bookings to have dropped by 60% since this time last year,” CNN reported. “We also have a lot of guests with valid bookings who don't know if they will need to cancel last minute because of travel restrictions and uncertainty about flights. It is a one step at a time year for all of us,” he told CNN.

In the resort town of Parga, the beaches are ready, CNN reported, noting that “Parga receives tens of thousands of visitors annually, mostly from Europe's north” and “this year it started out completely empty for the first time since the hotels were first built in the 1950s, locals say.”

Antonis Zygouris, manager of Parga travel agency ITS Travel, told CNN, “Bookings show that many people will not travel this summer. Many clients have already moved their bookings to next year, but if the first ones who come have a great time and return home safe things could pick up.”

As Greece's Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said, “the coming months will be ‘a different summer,’” CNN reported.

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