NEW YORK –
The addition of more direct flights from the United States saw American tourists, including the valued Diaspora, return to Greece in huge numbers so far in 2022 and spending big.
The flights go to the international airports in Athens and the second-largest city and port of Thessaloniki, whose popularity has risen as well, offering a cosmopolitan and diverse experience similar to the capital’s.
The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) for the region of Greece said the flights were the driving force in bringing the tourists, which Greek officials earlier said could reach at least 500,000 during the waning COVID-19 pandemic.
The Greek chapter of ASTA was awarded for the second year as the fastest growing internationally, as the country’s lure seems even more irresistible with people crazy to travel again after being limited for more than two years.
The agreement reached with U.S. airlines for 63 direct flights per week from the United States to Athens’ international airport resulted in many “high-spenders” visiting the country, said Kathimerini.
Statistics showed that the average American’s travel budget was $2,000 per person per week, of which 25 percent was spent on accommodations and 15 percent on food, bringing a big boost to the Greek economy.
“Greece is among the distinguished destinations of ASTA, especially for this year,” said Leonidas Babanis, the ASTA President for the Greece-Cyprus region of the impressive results.
Tourism Minister Vassilis Kikilias said the increase in wealthy visitors favored by the government and trying to lure people year round, including Americans, has proved to be a successful strategy.
Even during the waning COVID-19 pandemic, July was a record-busting tourism month in Greece with not just hordes of arrivals but big spenders filling the state treasury.
The month saw the highest-ever travel receipts for any July, smashing through 2019 records set before the deadly pandemic began in March, 2020 that nearly brought tourism to a standstill.
Bank of Greece data showed that tourists brought in 3.72 billion euros ($3.69 billion) in July, visitors drawn when the New Democracy government essentially ended health restrictions.
While it was just a 0.56 percent increase over July, 2019 it was made more impressive by happening during a continuing, if falling, world health crisis that rocked Greece’s slowly-recovering economy especially hard.
Curiously, there were 7 percent fewer arrivals in July this year than the same month three years earlier but people were spending more, crazy to travel again and luxuriate after lockdowns and slowdowns.
The average expenditure per traveler increased from 652.50 euros ($647.25) to 705 euros ($699.33) which was an 8 percent jump, boosting the tourism sector from restaurants and bars to rented beach lounges.
In the first seven months of 2022, there was a 191.4 percent jump in the number of arrivals over the same period in 2021 when some health measures were still in place.
But sources not named told the newspaper that a Big August will break through into making the first eight months a bonanza for tourism, which is the country’s biggest revenue engine and brings in as much as 20 percent of the annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 201.92 billion euros ($200.3 billion).
With Greece trying to lure visitors year-round now with different attractions, September could also be another huge month for travelers, especially those not looking for sun, sand, islands, and beaches.
Unless there’s an unexpected turn of events, tourism for all of 2022 could be 5 percent higher in arrivals and 10 percent higher than in 2019 when there were 33 million visitors, this year could break the 20 billion euro ($19.84 billion) mark.