ATHENS – The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t over but it looks like it is in Greece with health measures pushed back, people shunning masks and social distancing and tourists areas overflowing with eager arrivals.
That’s expecially true with the most popular destinations like the islands in the south and southeastern Aegean that have seen arrivals and revenues matching those of the record-busting year of 2019, Tourism Minister Vassilis Kikilias reported, said Kathinerini.
“In June alone, we expect 500 cruise ships in Greece. These are figures that show that tourism inflows are really strong and getting stronger by the week,” the minister said, the pandemic in the rear view mirror despite continuing cases, hospitalizations and deaths daily.
He also reported record numbers of arrivals from the United States, with more than half a million coming on direct flights, which, after starting on March 7, will increase to 63 a week and seats hard to come by.
“These are high spenders, who leave a lot of revenue in shops, hotels, the city and the country,” Kikilias said, with demand for Greece so high that tour operators are already booking groups for 2023.
Kikilias said that the Swiss-based operator, Easy Jet, is already doing and so is its competitor, Jet 2, indicating that Greece is a strong brand for tourism and a hot spot this year.
“Currently, the occupancy in Halki, Astypalea, and Kastelorizo is extremely high. We support alternative destinations. We gave impetus to the cruise. Only in the port of Thessaloniki, the increase in cruising, at the moment, exceeds 250 percent. We enhance the tourism product even in non-traditional destinations of the country,” he said, reported Schengenvisa.info.
Greek officials earlier said they expect more than 500,000 Americans, led by the Diaspora of Greek-Americans who had been shut out in 2020 when the pandemic broke out and were still somewhat limited in 2021.
Pointing out that Greece ranked fifth as a tourist brand worldwide, Kikilias said the ministry’s strategic goal was to draw people toward lesser-known destinations and for year-round tourism.
“This is because we want the dividend from tourism to reach the average Greek family in every corner of our country,” he said although inflation is so high as well as energy costs that many Greek households are having trouble making ends meet let alone travel in their country.
He said that the budget for this year’s subsidized Tourism for All social program will be increased to 30 million euros ($32.2 million,) Greece no longer relying on word of mouth and going to more marketing instead.
He didn’t mention Mykonos’ growing reputation – along with tax evasion – of gouging tourists with rip-off prices with restaurants, bars and taverns allowed to do it with authorities looking the other way.