Greece Makes Cold Pitch for Northern European Winter Tourists

ATHENS – Nothing beats Greece in the summer, except maybe Greece in the winter if you’re shivering in Germany or Scandinavia, the United Kingdom, and other northern European countries during their icy, dreary season.

That’s what Greece is hoping for, especially with an energy crisis that has seen utility bills and heating oil prices jump dramatically in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

It’s a so-called Thermal Tourism campaign that southern European Union countries, including Greece, are using as a lure to persuade pensioners in northern Europe to “come on down” for the winter.

Greece is set to launch a 20 million euro ($19.55 million) ad pitch urging them to come in the winter, taking advantage of their benefits in a country with a lower cost of living and warm climate.

“Our doors are open 12 months round, our friends in northern Europe should know this. They should head here for the winter,” said Tourism Minister Vassilis Kikilias, reported the British newspaper The Guardian.

“Wanna feel 20 again?” asks one of the billboards slated to appear in London and other capitals across the continent, the report noted of a persuasion campaign to bring the pensioners right through the winter.

“With warm winter temperatures up to 20C (68 Fahrenheit), Greece is the place to be,” it says, showing off an older couple lounging on a yacht, wine glasses in hand.

It’s the tail end coming of a year set to smash tourism records even during the waning COVID-19 pandemic and could bring in as much as 20 billion euros ($19.55 billion), boosting state tax income at a time when 9 billion euros ($8.8 billion) in state aid is already going to subsidize energy costs for Greek households.

Kikilias went on the road in September to Paris, Berlin, Vienna, and Stockholm to make the case why pensioners there should spend the winter in Greece without worrying about heating bills in their homeland.

He talked to pension fund managers, federations, tour operators, and air carriers who have been lining up to make more direct flights to Greece and cash in on the country’s popularity.

“There’ll be clusters connected by direct flights with hotels and restaurants that are prepared to stay open,” he told the Observer. “What we’re saying is that it might be less costly to turn off the heat back home and come here. It’s as simple as that.”

Boosted by plenty of celebrities showing off their bikini-clad bodies and wealth – free advertising – Greece has done so well that more American airlines added flights straight to Athens as an incentive to fly.

Ironically, Greece may be attracting too many people after hoping they’d show up again after two years of lockdowns and slowdowns that saw international air traffic slow to a crawl.

There have been so many arrivals that especially popular places, like the islands of Santorini and Mykonos, resemble ant hills, and the infrastructure on many can’t keep up with the needs and demands of visitors.

“The infrastructure on smaller islands was simply not built to accommodate so many people,” Kikilias admitted, but he was delight ted to note that “there was a time when Greece was only about sun, sand and sea, which is no longer true. There was a time when it would have been hard to imagine visitors here in the winter, but that is no longer the case either.”

Athens has become a hot spot too. Once used as a jumping-off point to make connections to the islands, the capital city drew 4 million people in August, The Guardian noted, benefiting from a buzz of curiosity and funky neighborhoods.

“People, especially pensioners, have always thought about the western Mediterranean in the winter months,” said Dimitris Maziotis, a public relations  strategist and senior aide to Kikilias who helped conceive the campaign. “What we’re saying is the eastern Mediterranean is here too.”


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