ATHENS – Unable to travel in their own country because of record inflation and soaring prices on everything from gasoline to ferry boats and electric bills they can’t pay, many Greeks can only watch the tourist throngs everywhere.
Those Greeks who don’t have summer village or island family homes are confined to their houses or apartments while seeing images of what could be record-breaking numbers of foreign visitors enjoying their country.
It’s even worse for Athenians, especially children, as there are almost no municipal swimming pools and successive governments have allowed private companies to take over public beaches and charge for their use.
Those who can’t afford domestic travel can’t go anywhere with August bringing more heat and cities nearly empty of people who did have summer family spots but otherwise can’t move around their country.
The fading COVID-19 pandemic – people are stil becoming ill and hospitalized – hasn’t kept millions from arriving, including what could be as many as 500,000 Americans, led by the Diaspora there.
Indications are that this year will break the 2019 record of 33 million arrivals – more than three times the population – which also brought in some 18 billion euros ($18.68 billion) that’s on a path to be surpassed.
That could be good news for the beleaguered New Democracy government after Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis shifted from dealing with the pandemic to concentrating on an economic recovery.
Arrivals from abroad at the country’s 14 largest regional airports exceeded all expectations in July, even with thousands of delays and cancellations daily of flights after airlines took subsidies to stay alive, let go of staff including pilots, and didn’t react in time to hire replacements.
Curiously, the arrivals were fewer than expected however at Athens International Airport but officials there, the paper said, expect a rise in September as Greece is trying to lure tourists into the autumn and beyond.
At Athens International Airport, July arrivals came to 2.83 million, or 5.1 percent fewer than in July 2019. Domestic arrivals were 0.3 percent lower, but international arrivals were down 7.2 percent, no explanation why as US airlines have added more direct flights there.
At the 14 largest regional airports managed by Fraport Greece, there were 5.127 million arrivals in July, a jump over that month of 4.49 million in the record year of 2019 before the Coronavirus hit in 2020.
But domestic travel volume was 7.4 perent below 2019 levels, reducing the overall increase to 11.1 percent as the flights had relatively few Greeks being carried around the country.
But tourism officials said those regional airport numbers showed the country will likely set another record despite what’s left of COVID, and a big summer is making up for a slow start of the year before Greece fully opened to tourists.
George Vilos, Fraport Greece’s General Manager for development, told Kathimerini that August is expected to be at least as big as July.“But we must remain vigilant, because it could be that the difficulties are lying ahead,” he said.
But unless the bubble breaks the number of arrivals could jump 5 percent over 2019 and revenue go up as much as 10 percent, the economy due to grow as much as 6 percent but the government said not enough to cut a 24 percent Value Added Tax (VAT) on food.
It’s not just that tourists crazy to travel again after lockdowns and slowdowns and disrupted international travel are coming, they are opening their wallets and spending big, Greece withstanding negative publicity about the gouging island of Mykonos with repeated stories of overcharging.
That has tourism and industry officials, the paper said, hoping the sector by the end of 2022 will have brought in close to 20 billion euros ($20.53 billion) that the government said will pay for state aid for utility bills for households.