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Economy

Greece Will Reopen for Tourism, But Will Anyone Come?

With year-round Greek hotels reopening June 1 as part of a gradual lifting of a lockdown aimed at preventing the spread of the COVID-19 Coronavirus, there are hopes that tourists will come back in July for a shortened season despite uncertainty whether it will be safe.

There had been estimates that the sector, which accounts for as much as 20 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 184.5 billion euros ($200.3 billion) could plummet as much as 70 percent, with the pandemic already having wiped out any chance of accelerating recovery from a near-decade long economic crisis.

The fallout from COVID-19, spilling over into hotel rooms being canceled, foreign tour operators not booking for trips as international air traffic remained largely grounded and whether there could be sufficient hygiene procedures could see 65 percent of Greece's hotels put into bankruptcy.

That was the assessment of a report on the German news site Deutsche Welle by a Greek-based correspondent, Anthee Carassava, in a feature on the dilemma of Greece trying to balance luring visitors against whether COVID-19 will linger. 

"Forecasts are continuously being revised," Tourism Minister Harry Theoharis said. "At this point, any adjustment being made is downward."

He added: "That means that we are expecting tourism to take a 50% hit this year. And that is the most favorable scenario being put forward in the studies we are conducting,"  although it's unknown whether when hotels open if people will come. 

Most European Union countries have already canceled major summer festivals and other events and there are no figures on whether people will feel comfortable enough to travel internationally despite hotels planning major hygiene schemes.

Greece, along with Cyprus, are the EU countries most affected by tourism, the biggest revenue engines that are critical, especially with damage to other businesses suffering under the lockdown, many likely not to reopen after the lockdown.

Restaurants, bars, taverns and other places that cater to tourists will have limits on how many customers they can cater to, shutting off money-making bars and reducing their income and otherwise crowded tourist areas would – if possible – be required to keep people at least 1.5-meters (4,92 feet) apart, further reducing foot traffic. 

“It also means that with 16.4% of the workforce unemployed — among the highest in the EU — this season's blow to tourism may spell more pain for Greeks still trying to claw out of a 10-year financial recession that left more than 1.2 million people jobless,” the report added.

"Every week or fortnight that we can salvage is crucial for the industry and the country," Theoharis said, with every day counting for businesses blindsided by the rapid spread of the virus. 

A  special government-appointed task force is looking at plans to let tour operators use vouchers from canceled bookings for new stays deep into the autumn, when most people don't want to come to Greece, preferring the summer sun, sand, islands, and archeological sites and weather.

The biggest markets for tourism in Greece, Germany and the United Kingdom, had seen mass cancellations of trips and a survey by booking portal HolidayCheck said only 40 percent will go ahead with travel if it's allowed, the report said.

But ore than half of Greece's overall tourism revenues and 80% of business profits are generated between July and August, a period during which popular islands such as Mykonos gouge tourists and some places charge as much as 1,000 euros ($1,085) for a bottle of champagne and rely on big spenders.

"For big, resort-type hotels it may just make more sense to shut down entirely for the season," Manolis Marrkopoulos, head of the hotel owners on Rhodes said. "Operational costs are just too high to sustain for a crisis that has no clear end date."

"Quarantines and travel just don't mix," said Lyssandros Tsilidies, the head of Greek tour operators. "Which British national, or German or American, is going to travel half way around the globe for a week's vacation knowing he'll be quarantined for at least 14 days?" he asked, referring to conditions to keep checking people for COVID-19.

Travelers to Greece would be checked at airports, including having their temperature taken, before being admitted, another deterrent. 

"We are not going to jeopardize the safety of our population and the measures we took for a quick fix," Theoharis said.

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