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Post-COVID: Greece Woos German Tourists Away from Spain, Portugal

Αssociated Press

In this Monday, May 25, 2020 photo, medical staff in a dinghy leaves from the Aegean Sea island of Milos to Sikinos island, Greece. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Greece’s summer battle for tourists, especially between Mediterranean countries, will be more intense this year when the gradual lifting of lockdowns aimed at preventing the spread of the COVID-19 Coronavirus, with German targets especially coveted.

Germany’s major tour companies are packaging summer packages to Greece and the Balearics, an archipelago off eastern Spain, which has done better than Spain in holding down the number of cases and deaths.

German tour operators TUI, DER Touristik and the FTI Group include offers of free cancellation up to 14 days before the trip and reduced rates by cutting profit margins or in new agreements with hotel owners where possible, said Kathimerini.

There are worries that tourism, which brings in as much as 20 percent of Greece’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 182.64 billion euros ($200.3 billion) could fall as much as 70 percent this year and Greece is promoting its record in dealing with COVID-19 against competitors, also including Italy and Turkey.

Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis for now said the country will be open to tourists from countries that have done relatively well in combating the virus, especially those in driving distance with international air traffic not in full force.

German tourists will be able to take a direct flight to the Greek islands as of July 1,  Mitsotakis told German newspaper Bild, with international flights allowed as of June 15 although unlikely to carry nearly as many people as before the virus struck.

“We are a positive example and this creates among the people a feeling of safety and trust in the state’s efficiency,” Mitsotakis told the newspaper.

Some four million Germans visited Greece in 2019, which had a record 33 million visitors spending 19 billion euros ($20.84 billion), about 2.9 billion euros ($3.18 billion) from Germans who are a critical market for Greece.

There’s uncertainty whether people will be willing to fly as COVID-19 still rages in some countries and with some air carriers, such as Greece’s national carrier Aegean Airlines refusing to give refunds for previously canceled flights, offering vouchers instead.

Greek hotels and tourist providers will have to follow strict health protocols, including disinfecting and limiting guests and following social distancing guidelines, adding to people’s fears of traveling yet.

For now, Greece will allow air arrivals from select countries, with 19 initially being approved, including Cyprus, Albania, Australia, Austria, Bosnia, Bulgaria, China, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Israel, Japan, North Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Romania, Serbia and Slovakia.

That excludes the important markets of the United States and United Kingdom where President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Boris Johnson refused for weeks to impose lockdowns, driving up the numbers of cases and deaths, the virus still roaring there.