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Greece Hopes Luxury Resorts Will Draw Rich Tourists After COVID-19

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Kilini Beach in Ilia. (Photo by Eurokinissi/ Yiannis Spyrounis)

Plans to reopen hotels in June, as measures aimed at preventing the spread of the COVID-19 Coronavirus are being gradually lifted, is also aimed at getting tourists - especially the rich - to come to save a summer season, with luxury resorts added in recent years.

"Ideally we want more high-end tourists where we can actually respect social distancing," Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told CNN, adding that there would be COVID-19 testing at airports and temperature checks at hotels and local businesses.

His New Democracy government has been widely applauded for its serious and scientific-led approach to an early lockdown imposed March 23 that helped save lives and held down the number of cases.

After 43 days, the restrictions to keep people mostly at home were starting to ease as of May 4 with the reopening of small stores, with plans to allow larger stores, restaurants, taverns and hotels to operate later.

Year-round hotels will open first and then those with seasonal services but ferry boats are not yet allowed to go to islands with passengers and international air traffic’s mass return is also uncertain, another limiting factor.

The government said the faster easing of the lockdown depends on whether the virus is kept in check but is especially eager to get tourism going after fears it could plummet as much as 52-70 percent.

Tourism accounts for as much as 18-20 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of some 185.65 billion euros ($200.3 billion) and is the biggest revenue provider, enjoying a record run of consecutive seasons before COVID-19 hit.

Greece's borders have been closed to non-European Union citizens since March, air travel to several countries hit by COVID-19 has been suspended, and Greece issued a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine for anyone arriving from another country. At Athens International Airport, officials are performing thorough COVID-19 testing, said Business Insider.

"We have reached a point where we've almost completely suppressed the epidemic, at least in the first stage and we'll begin to relax. We feel we've dodged the first bullet very clearly," Mitsotakis told CNN.

"I think we did it the right way. Of course we didn't get everything completely correct, but if you look at the numbers, you can't argue with what we have achieved,” he added. 

Part of the government’s plan to convince people it’s safe to come to Greece include health protocols at hotels and other facilities and in recent years investors have poured money into luxury hotels and resorts catering to the rich and the super-rich.

Greek Tourism Minister Harry Theocharis told Reuters last month that travel might look different this year, but the country hopes they can reopen its borders for the economy.

"This season is not going to be a season like the other years, I would be a fool to believe that this could ever be the case, however there is a lot that we can do in order to re-open the touristic economy, the touristic flows, and that way we will able to support a lot of those enterprises — the hotels, the travel agents," he said.

Popular islands like Santorini and Mykonos – where some places charge as much as 1,000 euros ($1,079) for a bottle of champagne, appeal to the rich and are notorious for not paying taxes and allowed to stay open after paying relatively small fines.