ATHENS - Without indicating why in the face of a lingering COVID-19 pandemic, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said tourists will come back this summer to Greece and bring a big economic comeback.
But travelers from key markets such as the United States, hard hit by the Coronavirus are still barred and the European Union considering his request for people coming into bloc countries to get fast line priority if they can show they’ve been vaccinated.
The New Democracy leader said the vaccination programs that are far behind schedule will lead to a tourism return although at the current rate of inoculations it will go into the summer at least for everyone to get their shots.
He expects travelers from other big markets such as Israel as well as the United Kingdom, which was reluctant to bring lockdowns and saw cases spike out of control.
Tourism is Greece’s biggest revenue engine, bringing in as much as 18-20 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of some 167.2 billion euros ($200.3 billion) annually as the biggest employer.
"I am a realist but I am also cautiously optimistic that we will do much better than last year," Mitsotakis told the news agency Reuters without offering any evidence why he expects a comeback in the face of the current odds against it.
"Last year we were at 20-25 percent of what we would have gotten in a regular year. If we were to get 50 percent of what a regular year would look like, it's still going to be 100% better than last year,” but 50 percent worse than several years of record runs.
Tourism revenues in 2020, with international air traffic at a near-standstill and people able to fly reluctant to travel, fell to 4 billion euros ($4.79 billion,) little more than monthly losses now from lockdowns.
Mitsotakis said vaccine certificates would not be mandatory for visitors this summer but he noted that Britain and Israel were leading the way in the speed of their vaccination rollouts.
"Essentially we are dependent on the pace of vaccination in our main markets," he told the news agency.
"For example, Israel is a very important market for Greece and if 70 percent of the Israeli population is vaccinated by the end of March, it makes it easier to gradually start opening up to Israelis who have a real interest in travelling,” he said.