ATHENS – Greece’s tourism hopes keep getting knocked down but Tourism Minister Vassilias Kikilias said the country will get up again to bring more foreign travelers to help accelerate an economic recovery during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are fighters and we are trying to bring every last visitor to the country,” he told Open TV, with initial hopes for a big rebound soured by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which rocked world markets and sent energy prices rising.
That has left many would-be tourists thinking twice about going anywhere and airplane tickets likely to become more expensive with fuel costs reaching the sky, making 2022 a third brutal year after the coronavirus struck in 2020.
Greece also supported European Union sanctions barring Russian airlines – which means Russian tourists – and is looking to other countries to try to lure people to come, Kikilias saying he will go to France, Israel, Serbia, and Romania to reach out.
“We will examine how we can cover the small percentage of Russian travelers who may not come to our country and we will strengthen our tourism product in all its forms worldwide,” he also said.
“We will fight alongside the people of tourism, who are in the hundreds of thousands, and we will bring income to the average Greek family, fighting every day,” he also added, said Kathimerini.
The ban on Russian flights is in effect until May 28 and said Greece hopes that by then the war against Ukraine might alleviate or end and that he believes most of Russian society “is inextricably linked with our country.”
Greece’s tourism industry is clawing back losses during the two years of the pandemic and hoping to recover more as the third year of the coronavirus has begun, with signs of a rebound, if slow.
A special 2021 report released by the Greek Tourism Confederation’s (SETE) research body INSETE found that hotels that year got better ratings from visitors, during a time when luxury resorts and accommodations were being built.
According to the GRI hotel satisfaction index, Greek hotels got a score of 55 and 87.6 percent exceeding 2019’s score of 50 and 87.1 percent, said GTP Headlines in a report on the results.
Satisfaction in hotels was high in the areas of food & drink, facilities, staff, experience, cleanliness, beach, service, fun and atmosphere but not so good for rooms and noises, facilities – pools – water, and establishment.
Hotel revenue came to 5.5 billion euros ($6.02 billion) in 2021, still down by 34.9 percent compared to the record year of 2019 when it was 8.4 billion euros ($9.2 billion) with tourism annually accounting for 18-20 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 183 billion euros ($200 billion.)
Cruise ships, which had been petri dishes breeding COVID and shunned largely the last two years, but are a big part of tourism for Greece, are also returning as the pandemic slowly wanes.
The port of Piraeus that’s been revitalized by the Chinese management company COSCO which has a controlling stake in the operation will become a home to The Royal Caribbean Group in February, 2023.
That will be the base from which to make voyages to Cyprus, Israel, and Egypt, the port gaining in international cruise ship attraction as the sector tries to come back from the still lingering COVID-19 pandemic.
In a meeting with Kikilias, senior executives at the company said they were happy about the increase in direct flights between the United States and Greece, also said Kathimerini.
They explained that some 60 percent of Royal Caribbean’s passengers are U.S. citizens, while adding that they estimate that at least 43 percent of the group’s passengers will spend a minimum of one night in Athens.
In February, Kikilias said that ministry and tourism agencies expect a big growth in the cruise market in Greece this summer, although there is worry about the rising energy costs driven by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that could deter travelers.
The ministry said then that it expects increase in the cruise sector will reach 118 percent for Piraeus and 189 percent for the port of Thessaloniki while these ports will also be home ports for more than half the cruise ships berthing there.
Kikilias told the Sunday newspaper Real News, “We supported the cruise sector from the first moment and we support our ports as home port destinations. The cruise ship passengers give added value to the local economy and society.”