ATHENS – Just when it seemed like it might – might – almost be safe again to vacation in Greece and head for the islands the hills, a combination of the COVID-19 Delta Variant and people refusing to be vaccinated is bringing back worry.
That includes from tourism officials, workers, and owners of properties like hotels that rely on foreign visitors whose spending makes up as much as 18-20 percent of the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 169.57 billion euros ($200.3 billion.)
There were more than 33 million of them in another record year in 2019 before the pandemic struck in 2020 and brought the sector essentially to a halt, but rebounding this summer after Greece opened the doors for those who are vaccinated, had a negative PCR test or proof they'd recovered from the virus.
Cases, hospitalizations and deaths that had been fallen are on the rise again and defiance of health measures, especially on the wild party island of Mykonos where people weren't wearing masks or staying safe social distances brought a relapse.
In a feature, the Reuters news agency noted how that has undercut some cautious optimism that life might be coming back to normal, or a new abnormal, but that it would be safe for tourists to come, those from the United Kingdom and Germany facing restrictions back home if they did.
American tourists are allowed – but Greeks can't travel to the United States – but the numbers, while encouraging, are still short of what the New Democracy government was hoping for but Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis hasn't made vaccinations mandatory, except for health care workers – but not tourism workers.
Reuters report said that, “For two balmy weeks in July, hotel manager George Tselios dared to hope his pandemic nightmare was behind him. He was getting 100 bookings a day for his Rhodes seaside resort – 'unthinkable numbers' for the past year and nearing normal levels.
Then the island was downgraded to "orange" on Greece's COVID-19 map – one level before curfews and other tough restrictions become mandatory – and bookings fell by half over the uncertainty.
sunk to around 50 a day.
"You can only see two to three weeks ahead, maximum," said Tselios, whose Blue Sea Resort draws visitors from Germany, Britain and Scandinavia. "This is a transitional summer." And it's as much blue as orange for the industry.
June brought promise, with a 1300 percent increase in arrivals over the same month in 2020 when, of course, there were next to none because international air traffic had all but shut down and few wanted to go anywhere anyway.
Now the unease has slowed not only July but the prospects for the usual boom month of August and time is running out to save the summer, another tough year looming for restaurants, bars, taverns, hotels and the islands too.
"For the first time in years, a secure forecast for this year's tourism revenues cannot be made," Yannis Retsos, President of the tourism confederation SETE, said. "The positive momentum could, at any moment, be overtaken by insecurity, and vice-versa,” he said.
So desperate is Greece that the government, after imposing an overnight curfew on Mykonos and a ban on music, lifted them within days under pressure from business owners, the economy taking precedence over the health crisis.
On Rhodes, which got more than 2.5 million visitors in 2019, business owners worry that the broader south Aegean region may be marked "deep red" by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, and that big-spending German tourists may stay away, said Reuters.
In June, the Bank of Greece said it would take 2-3 years for travel and spending to return to the record levels of 2019 which brought in when Greece saw over 33 million tourists and 18 billion euros ($21.26 billion) in revenues.
But the predictions now have been set for only 40 percent of that for this year and it's unsettling for an industry that has had almost one million workers attached and relying on people to keep coming.
Ioannis Hatzis, who owns three hotels on Rhodes and sits on the board of the country's hoteliers federation, said he believed that target could be met, even if demand fell. "It is a summer of patience," he said.
Grigoris Tasios, President of the Greek hoteliers federation, hasn't been brought down yet. "We're doing much better than last year," he said. But how long?