ATHENS – Getting the jump on other countries, Greece has already allowed tourists from the United States and a handful of other countries who are vaccinated or have negative COVID-19 test proof and will open the doors wider on May 15.
That’s when tourists from other countries who are also free of the Coronavirus will be allowed to enter in a gambit that they will come, crazy to travel and shed lockdowns fatigue, with signs that international air traffic is picking up.
While the pandemic is still lingering, there are signs Greece’s accelerating vaccination program is paying off, although far behind schedule, and there is cautious optimism among health professionals that COVID-19 will be contained and maybe even eradicated at some point.
Tourism brings in 18-20 percent of Greece’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 166.19 billion euros ($200.3 billion) and was on a run of consecutive record years through 2019, with more than 31 million people, before COVID-19 hit in 2020.
Greece’s economy shrank some 10 percent with non-essential businesses, including the vast tourism industry that had employed nearly one million people, shut off during lockdowns aimed at slowing the spread of the virus.
There’s no expectation that 2021 will be a big year for tourism but that it will start a springboard effect and gain momentum, although the European Union still can’t decide on Greece’s idea of COVID-19 certificates to speed tourism.
The New Democracy government and tourism associations said that their best hope is for 40-50 percent of previous tourism numbers in visitors and revenues from 2019, said Kathimerini.
That had been downgraded until signs emerged that people are coming in bigger numbers, with US airlines having 40,000 seats weekly during the late spring and into summer and direct flights from United, Delta and American.
Greece, while still relying on a cumbersome EU vaccination delivery schedule that couldn’t provide enough doses earlier, expects 5 million in May, with most versions requiring two shots weeks or months apart, slowing full inoculation.
There will also be Americans – lots of them – and especially Greek-Americans anxious to return to their family’s homeland for visits, so many from the US that it pushed airlines to add more flights to Athens, many non-stop.
Officials at Athens International Airport told the newspaper that while traffic in the first quarter of 2021 was only 15.4 percent of that in 2019 that it could hit 25 percent in the second quarter and 55 percent through the summer.
With Greece expanding tourism schemes to attract people year round, the indications now are that the levels for the autumn will be 65 percent of 2019 and propel the country into a Big Rebound 2022 with hope life will be normal.
Greece is also benefiting from reaching out earlier and faster than other EU countries, with Tourism Minister Harry Theoharis going to the US to make a pitch that the country is safe.
Travel sites also showed that Greece is a favored destination for this year with people almost desperate to hit islands and beaches and get away from the clutches and fear that COVID-19 is still bringing.