ATHENS – It’s the county’s biggest revenue bringer – and the most crippled by the COVID-19 pandemic – but Greece’s New Democracy government is looking at opening to tourists again in June, the Big If still hanging in the air.
If the Coronavirus recedes and a slow vaccination rollout campaign is accelerated enough to make a difference. If two of the biggest markets, the hard-hit United Kingdom and United States can bring COVID-19 under control.
Almost a year into the health horror show that gripped the world, countries reliant on international visitors have found they need diversification, Greece mulling ways to keep people coming year round and not just during the summer high season.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ idea for European Union countries to adopt fast lane access at airports for those with vaccination certificates seems to be catching on as campaigns to inoculate more people are being sped up in many places.
Greece will use that method in plans to reopen to international travelers June 1, said The Voice of America (VOA) in a report about the hope to lure people reluctant to move around the world on airplanes.
Greece would let visitors bypass quarantine regulations with a negative coronavirus test taken within 72 hours of their departure and there’s been a big jump in early booking from the UK, where vaccinations seem to be slowing the pandemic.
"Greece has long been a favorite holiday destination for the British," Grigoris Tassios, President of the country's hoteliers federation told VOA. "But with the rate of inoculations in the UK largely outpacing all others across Europe and beyond, British travelers will be among the safest to travel here by as early as May,” he added.
Another key market for Greece – Israel – has inoculated 25 percent of its population but the big question is whether new US President Joe Biden can get enough vaccines to make it safe for Americans – especially Greek-Americans – to travel.
US health officials just announced that more Americans had received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine than have tested positive for the virus. "These are all promising signs," Tassios said. "But we still have a way to go."
International air traffic was brought to a near standstill in 2020 and is very slowly recovering but many countries still have bans on travelers from countries which have been the most affected, especially the US.
Tourism in Greece brings in as much as 18-20 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 166.24 billion euros ($200.3 billion) and provides the most jobs but the sector – which includes the closed-down for now food and beverage businesses – has taken a brutal hit.
A recent report by the financial risk advisory services group Ernst & Young showed Europe's weakest economy shrinking an additional 10 percent in 2020 because of an 80 percent drop in tourism revenue, the report said.
That could come back 50 percent this year but in Greece it depends on how well Mitsotakis can balance saving lives through lockdowns with easing them to save businesses on lifelines.
If the tourist sector can again say The British Are Coming it would be a major boon as UK visitors could bring some $10 billion to help revive the gasping industry and workers hoping to return to the job, especially seasonal employees.
As many as two2 million foreign travelers will be redeeming vouchers for vacation packages canceled last summer because, according to industry data. The number of Israelis and Americans following suit remains unclear, reported Anthee Carassava.
"Not opening is not an option this year," said Alexis Komninos, a leading hotelier on the iconic island of Santorini where Mitsotakis late in the spring of 2020 went as a backdrop to say tourism would rebound in 2020. It didn’t
"The chips are down, and it's clearly crunch time,” Kominos told VOA
"But while I and others in the industry are doing our part, doling out the cold cash to refurbish, rebuild and slash my prices by 40 percent in flash sales to lure British, German and other customers, the government must do its part in helping subsidize this national reopening,” he said.
"This isn't about some sort of business experiment," said Komninos. "It is a national gambit. And if this season is lost — well, then we're all in for a really rough ride."
Tourism ministry officials said they were told the government would pick up some of the cost of salaries for workers in the summer. Big If.