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Tourists Who Fled Rhodes Wildfires in 2023 Starting Subsidized Vacations

Terrified tourists who had to walk along beaches to flee wildfires on the popular island of Rhodes in the summer of 2023 can now return for vacations, partly paid by the New Democracy government eager to keep foreign arrivals coming this year.

That required convoluted legislation and navigating through Greece’s notoriously labyrinthine bureaucracy, with New Democracy government officials saying the country became the first in the world to offer free one-week holidays as compensation.

Up to 25,000 people will be eligible, and “The scheme is up and running as the prime minister promised,” Tourism Ministry General-Secretary Myron Flouris told the British newspaper The Guardian. “It’s been a very complicated process, not least, I think, because we’re the first country in the world to do this,” he said.

Premier Kyriakos Mitsotakis had promised the free vacations after initial reports following tourists fleeing for their lives complained they were largely left on their own without direction or had to rely on the kindness of islanders.

The government at the time said only about 20% of the island had burned, trying to downplay the seriousness, but photos and videos showed how vast the conflagration was and the danger to residents and tourists.

Under the program, people who stayed in hotels that were evacuated will be able to redeem e-vouchers worth up to €500 to cover the accommodation charges of a week-long stay between now and May 31 and Oct. 1-Nov. 15.

Interest has been strong, tourism officials on the island said, with more than 5,000 people already applying for the subsidies, although the cost of going to Rhodes and staying there even for a short duration is far more than the assistance being given.

“Anyone who was staying in areas that were affected by the fires is eligible,” said Yannis Papavasiliou, head of the hotelier union there. “The response has been very good, and we are told it will be even stronger come the autumn.”

The compensation would be based on the amount clients originally paid to tour operators and could be as little as €300. “It will apply only to hotels, not Airbnb-style private accommodation. At the end of the day, Greece is making good on its promise to compensate all those who lost their holidays because of climate change,” he said.

With many affected coming from the United Kingdom, Mitsotakis quickly announced the initiative on ITV’s Good Morning Britain after stranded holidaymakers had to cut short their trips as the wildfires raged.

He returned to Rhodes on April 8 – he had ordered the evacuation when the fires spread rapidly – and said worries persist that despite the best efforts to prevent or deal with them, wildfires will increase because of climate change.

“All of the Mediterranean is a hotspot for climate change. That, statistically, means we will have more fires and probably more floods,” he told a conference organized in Rhodes by the European Travel Commission.

Mitsotakis said what was most important was saving lives. “It wasn’t easy … to evacuate 25,000 visitors, but we did it safely, and we are very proud of the fact that we managed to confront this crisis essentially without mourning (the loss) of human life.”

While many UK holidaymakers visit Rhodes with tour operators, including Jet2, TUI, and Thomas Cook, they are expected to liaise directly with the Greek government to obtain their vouchers.

TUI said its customers should individually contact the Greek government online, while Thomas Cook said the process was managed by the Greek tourist board, Rhodes authorities, and participating hoteliers, rather than its team.

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