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Tourism Saving Grace for Greece, Restaurants, Hotels, Islands

ATHENS – The tourists keep coming! The tourists keep coming!

That could be Greece’s slogan in the summer of 2022, even during the lingering COVID-19 pandemic, so many arriving it could be a bellwether year busting previous records in 2019 when there were 33 million arrivals and 18 billion euros ($18 billion) in revenue.

The country is in a path to possibly hit 20 billion euros ($20 billion) in tourist spending this year, a critical amount as the state is pumping money into aid for households racked by record inflation and soaring electric bills.

In a feature, Germany’s state-run Deutsche Welle (DW) broadcaster and news site noted the bright prospects, with Greece’s Tourism Ministry reaching out to lure visitors to lesser-traveled islands and year-round destinations.

“For a long time, Greece hasn’t seen so much music, so much dancing, so much eating and drinking under bright summer skies,” the site said, making it sound like Zorba was low-kicking on a Cretan beach in joy.

It’s been a rough 12 years. In 2010, successive governments needed three international bailouts of 326 billion euros ($325.97 billion) to prop up an economy brought down by generations of wild overspending and runaway patronage.

The bailouts ended in 2018 and now, four years to the day, the country’s European Union lenders ended surveillance of the economy, opening the door for Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ New Democracy government to accelerate a recovery and try to restore market status for borrowing.

Tourism is Greece’s biggest revenue engine and brings in as much as 18-20 percent of the annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 200.31 billion euros ($200.3 billion) and at its peak had nearly one million workers in the sector.

Photos tell the picture.

Santorini is so overrun that the cliffside spots look like crabs covering a beach and you can’t move without jostling someone next to you just as eager to get a selfie with thousands of people in the picture.

August is seeing a million people a week arriving and they are spending like drunken sailors, and some will need deep pockets given that there are spots, particularly Mykonos, notorious for gouging them.

Tourism Minister Vassilis Kikilias, a former professional basketball player with no experience in the field, took over just as tourism began its gangbuster run and shows no sign of relenting.

SHOW US THE MONEY

They’re coming by plane – United States airlines added more direct flights to Athens, including restoring a popular route with Boston – and they’re coming by cruise ship, cars and buses – but not by train because Greece doesn’t have international connections.

There were some 3.5 million arrivals in July and that’s not even the best month, making Kikilias almost giddy about the turnaround after two years of grim lockdowns and slowdowns and fear about the Coronavirus.

“If this goes on until mid-September, we’ll survive the next winter,” the owner of a large beach bar on the island of Naxos, identified only by his first name of Panayiotis, told DW.

While Greece is far cheaper now for Americans, with the euro and dollar essentially at parity, the demand for accomodations has driven up prices and it’s hard to find a room in some places, never mind a plane seat.

The hottest spots remain the usual: the islands of Mykonos, Santorini, Corfu, Kos and Rhodes, which are expensive, and Kikilias is preaching lesser-known islands that are more traditional and look like Greece used to be.

Even Athens, which had been shunned for years as a jumping-off spot is seeing big numbers, especially the young who’ve discovered its European buzz and a plethora of coffee shops and funky, individual stores and neighborhoods.

“It’s wonderful and very comfortable in the city. We take the tram to get to the beaches, the sea is great, nicely warm and clear, and if you don’t want you don’t even have to rent an expensive beach umbrella,” Jasmina, from Spain, said about the visit with her boyfriend Juan.

But if you don’t go to places where people aren’t going you will have a lot of company and not much quiet or charm, especially on islands where elbow soup is on the menu and there are more visitors than residents.

Bank of Greece data also showed that June 2022 saw an increase of some 50 percent in visitors from the US, compared to 2019, and some 500,000 or more Americans – led by the Diaspora – pouring in.

The biggest problem tourism is having is not enough workers as seasonal employees gave up the part-time low-paying drudgery of serving people for permanent positions, leaving shortages of staff in hotels and restaurants.

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