Greek Tourism Minister Harry Theoharis has taken his pitch to the United States for visitors to come visit even during the lingering COVID-19 pandemic – if they're vaccinated or have a negative Coronavirus test.
Theoharis was in the US as Greece was already open to Americans and those from the European Union, Israel, Serbia, the United Arab Emirates and also the United Kingdom, which hasn't yet let its residents travel outside the country.
There will be a general opening on May 14, with the New Democracy government pulling back most of the restrictions of an already lenient lockdown to allow restaurants to offer outdoor dining as of May 3 as a further lure.
Theoharis said Greece is the perfect break from the pandemic, although it's still going on, and will be safe as the country has stepped up vaccinations and self-testing and will keep health protocols in place for restaurants and tourist sites.
In Atlanta, headquarters to Delta Airlines that is resuming direct flights to Athens in the summer, he told Global Atlanta that, “This is not about Greece gaining market share. This is about everyone restarting that trust,,” although Greece got the jump on most countries in opening.
“We are saying there is a system. We put it in the public domain, we want others to copy it. We believe it’s safe. We have the data to back it up. Of course every country makes its own sovereign decisions, but we believe that this is the way to move forward,” he said.
The plan includes targeted rapid testing upon arrival at Greek airports, where algorithms will weigh positive case rates from travelers’ origin countries and positive test rates at the border to determine whom to test and how frequently. Those who test positive will be quarantined but in the same type of accommodation they booked for the visit and he noted that social distancing will still be required as well as wearing masks.
“This vacation is not the same as 2019. There are still restrictions in terms of social distancing … and hygiene requirements,” he said. “Those have worked very well. Our private sector implemented them in exemplary fashion, like hotels, etc. So we’ll continue with that. We’re updating them with the new knowledge that we have — slight changes — but effectively (they are doing) what we expected from them.”
He also said that, “We do not aim for quantity in terms of revenue or number of people that come in now. Just quality. And quality for us means to have the ability to travel if you want to, and to be safe throughout the journey, door to door, and go back to your loved ones and relatives, safe and sound.”
While Greece hopes for a robust summer, it doesn't expect the kind of record crowds that came for consecutive years through 2019, brought to a near halt by the pandemic in 2020 with international air traffic curbed.
“Our duty is to show that this can be done, and also to provide it to the people that choose to come Greece. That’s why our motto this year is ‘All you want is Greece.’ And if you note on that motto, Greece is the last word. Greece is not in the forefront. ‘You’ is the important word here, and how you manage your needs.”