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Ailing Greek Tourist Sector Wants Some EU COVID-19 Aid

Αssociated Press

Tourists walk around by Acropolis Hill, in Athens, Friday, July 31, 2020. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

ATHENS – Greece's tourism businesses, brought down hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and far fewer arrivals than expected after the country opened to visitors in July, wants a share of European Union aid given the government.

The EU has allocated 32 billion euros ($37.7 billion) in loans and grants to help offset losses brought by closing non-essential businesses during a long lockdown that began March 23 and was lifted week-by-week starting May 4.

That came after the New Democracy government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis poured 17.5 billion euros ($20.62 billion) into helping businesses temporarily shut – some never reopened – and workers laid off in the lockdown.

Tourism is Greece's biggest revenue engine, bringing in as much as 18-20 percent of the annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 170.02 billion euros ($200.3 billion,) a record 19 billion euros ($22.38 billion) in 2019.

But that also means the country is over-reliant on a single industy and was hit hard when it was nearly shut down, the summer season fast winding down and people staying away in droves, including Americans barred because of the soaring cases in the United States after President Donald Trump wouldn't lock down, saying he favored the economy.

In requests for financing from the recovery fund, tourism enterprises will focus on energy upgrade projects targeting sustainability and on digital transition and modernization projects, said Kathimerini.

“Tourism activity must be perceived as an ecosystem of value chains driven by experiences offered by destinations, with each country being able to form its own unique chain of value and experiences,” Ilias Kikilias, General Director at the Institute of the Greek Tourism Confederation (INSETE), tells Kathimerini.

Greece’s main competitors, as INSETE has shown, are mature European destinations such as Spain, Italy and Portugal, “to which we are superior in friendliness, service, in accommodation, food quality and the sense of security, but we lag in matters mainly related to public infrastructure and the operation of destinations, such as cleanliness, town planning, the state of archaeological sites, information etc,” he added without saying how much the sector wants.

“The problem is therefore not in the impressive growth of tourism, but in the lagging of a significant number of economic activity sectors, many of which could also benefit from the further growth of tourism,” he said.