ATHENS – Looking ahead to a hoped-for post-Pandemic year in 2022, United Kingdom airlines see Greece as again an international hot spot and are planning to add flights with more than 1.5 million more seats.
Among the leaders in jumping on board the Greece bandwagon are Jet2 and easyJet which are adding capacity, said The Financial Times in a report about the country’s continuing popularity.
Jet2 said it had one million more seats on sale between Greece and the UK than it had offered in a record busting 2019, while easyJet has plans to add about 500,000 more flight tickets to its schedule subject to space being made available at airports, the report said.
UK tourists have mostly been locked out during the COVID-19 health crisis, those allowed to come facing quarantine risks and other restrictions on returning which was a deterrent to come to Greece.’
“Having met most of the tour operators and airline companies here in the UK . . . we are very, very optimistic about 2022,” Tourism Minister Vassilis Kikilias told the newspaper at the World Travel Market conference in London.
He said that Greece was expecting 35 percent more tourists from the UK than it had in 2021, equalling the record level of about 3.6 million in 2019 and he expected they would start coming as soon as March.
Agreements between the airlines and the Greek government, with the tourism ministry helping to secure airport slots for planes in return for guarantees of inbound flights, are an indication of the travel industry’s faith in a strong bounceback in foreign travel next year, the report added.
Rynair Chief Executive Michael O’Leary said he expects a full recovery in international air traffic although for now it’s a wearisome process requiring proof of vaccination, negative COVID tests, passenger locator forms and other documents.
“We are looking at very substantial growth next year,” he said. Several tour operators including Tui, Europe’s largest, have said that reservations for holidays in summer 2022 have already exceeded 2019 bookings, which could bring a boom for Greece.
The expectations are that people are willing to spend more on luxury accommodations after having been locked out of travel for what would be two years for many countries.
Greece was one of the first European countries to reopen to international tourists following the first lockdowns in 2020 and relies on tourism as its biggest revenue engine, accounting for 18-20 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 173.17 million euros ($200.3 million.)
Behind Germany, the UK is Greece’s biggest market and had reached out to the British government to be more lenient in letting people visit even as the Coronavirus is surging again, spread by anti-vaxxers.
Kikilias, who has no experience in tourism and was appointed only in September said that Greece had taken a “calculated risk” in opening up early but was rewarded for doing it as tourism hit 65-75 percent of 2019 levels.
The government installed extra doctors in hotels, added health service workers to Greece’s popular island destinations and used 320 million euros ($370.13 million) in European Union pandemic recovery funds to upgrade tourism.