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Greece Wants to Salvage Summer Tourism Season, But New Rules

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Tourists visiting Acropolis, Athens. (Photo by Eurokinissi/ Effie Skaza)

ATHENS - It won’t be normal, but a New Normal, as Greece hopes international air travel will resume as lockdowns around the world aimed at preventing the spread of the COVID-19 Coronavirus are eased and that tourists will still come this summer.

Tourism makes up as much as 20 percent of Greece’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 185.06 billion euros ($200.3 billion) but fears were that revenues from visitors could fall 52-70 percent this year, ending a record run of years propping up a battered economy.

Tourism Minister Harry Theoharis has spoken about "specific new rules" as the world tries to adapt to the pandemic, said media reports about Greece’s plans to let hotels reopen with strict hygienic rules and social distancing requirements.

He told the British newspaper The Guardian that, “If we are to think of the possibility of traveling this year it has to be under specific new rules. We have to have new rules for hotels, new rules for beaches, new rules for pools, new rules for breakfast buffets, new rules for tour buses.”

Tourism ministers across the European Union were set to discuss what those rules could be to prevent a recurrence of the virus even as it’s still raging across the bloc and with lockdowns only gradually being pulled back.

The regulations could include temperature checks and blood tests from passengers on planes, the paper said, while Theoharis said that having common rules across the EU would let people have a uniform idea of what to expect.

He said: "If, for example, you can only fly with 10 people on a plane to be deemed safe then obviously there will be no flight,” as the airline industry is trying to come up with ideas to keep people apart on board, including keeping middle seats empty.

With people pent up with cabin fever from being locked down for weeks or months the expectation is that the demand to get out will overcome wariness about traveling during uncertainty whether it’s still safe or that the virus is still out there.

Theoharis said Greece could open to vacationers in in July, far later than when the boom time begins, but perhaps enough to catch the last wave of summer and bring critical revenues for the state as well as businesses and workers in the tourism sector.

He said: "Once measures are relaxed a good month will be required to prepare the ground for the (tourism) engine to get started,” although a survey among Greeks found that most, if they take vacations, will do so domestically, which could happen in other countries too.

"Tour operators are waiting and hoping we can come up with the right rules so that we can start bringing visitors in. We have to strike the right balance … be cautious, tough it out and make the best of it,” he said.

Greece is expected to lose billions of euros in tourism as the mainland and islands close their borders to visitors, with 65% of hotels facing bankruptcy, the Liverpool Echo said, while a study by the Hellenic Chamber of Hotels found that 65% of hoteliers say they are "likely" to go bankrupt, with 18.3% saying it was "most likely,” to hit them.