Celebrities and tourists flock to Greece. But a harsh winter is not far away | Helen Smith

EEarlier this month, Elon Musk flew to Mykonos, shelling out €7,000 to enjoy the pleasures of a golden speedboat for a few hours. In nearby Paros, Roger Federer bathed in the rays with his family away from the tennis court while Magic Johnson raved about his “life-changing experience” at the Acropolis and Nicole Kidman thanked “the beautiful Greece” on Instagram.

Greece is having a great summer. Just when tourism officials think it can’t get better, it does. Athens prepares to welcome a million visitors this week; record numbers are flocking to the islands – despite the jellyfish – and there are plenty of celebrities on vacation.

“This year, the whole world is voting [for] Greece,” the country’s tourism minister, Vassilis Kikilias, told the Observer. “We have a war in Europe, a pandemic that is still here, an energy crisis, global uncertainty, inflation, tensions with Turkey and even jellyfish and yet they are still coming. Arrivals on popular islands are up 20%.

In the Greek capital, it can’t get much better either: after the mass return of coronavirus vacationers from the Lost Years, teeming in the streets of the city’s historic center and crowding into archaeological sites.

The figures already point to a tourist season that will surpass the country’s all-time high of attracting 33.1 million visitors – more than three times the total population of Greece – in 2019.

Elon Musk, who flew to Mykonos, was one of many celebrities to visit Greece. Photography: Lily Lawrence/Getty Images

For Costas Lavidas, who runs the kebab shop that made his grandfather famous in the 1950s, vacationers are a lifeline. “What is certain is that if it hadn’t been for the tourists, I wouldn’t have the business that I have,” he said, placing sticks of marinated pork on the grill behind him as queues formed outside the restaurant in Syntagma Square in Athens. “Thank God they are here! »

It is not just the resort islands that are reporting a significant increase in arrivals. Demand for cruises has also exploded, with more than 700 liners expected to dock at Greek ports in 2022. “There was a 280% increase in the port of Thessaloniki and 130% in Piraeus,” Kikilias said.

Flights to Athens International Airport – among the few in Europe not marred by delays this summer – jumped 20%. The push is such that if there is any problem, it is finding enough workers to staff the industry. In recent months, resorts and hotels have recruited Ukrainian refugees to help fill positions.

“Since March 2, there have been nine direct flights from the United States to Athens each day. It was a game-changer,” Kikilias added. “About 500,000 Americans are expected to come by November. They are big spenders and with the dollar-to-euro exchange rate, they can spend even more.

Greece made €18.2 billion in tourism revenue in 2019 and just over €10 billion last year when Greece opened its borders in May. Speaking to CNN last Thursday, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said he thought officials would be “pleasantly surprised” once they “did the math” at the end of the season.

“Greece is doing particularly well this summer,” he told the American channel. “We have put a lot of effort into improving our tourism product, ensuring that all new investments in tourism are sustainable. We have seen this year the tourist season start very early and I expect it to end very late.

In an economy so dependent on the sector – tourism accounts for 25% of Greece’s economic output and one in five jobs – the travel bug that seems to have taken hold post-Covid has had the effect of being more than just a psychological balm.

Far from the pink figures, the Greeks know that they are in reserve for a difficult winter. Inflation hit 11.5% – a 28-year high – this month, according to data released by Eurostat on Friday. In a country where the minimum wage is €713 a month and an estimated 43% of the working population cannot afford holidays, prices have soared.

“There are huge numbers of people in this country working for less than €1,000 a month,” said Nikos Vettas, an economics academic who heads the influential think tank IOBE.

“Greek incomes are below average wages in the EU, not least because of the years of crisis,” he added, referring to harsh austerity that was the price of international bailouts to stave off the nation’s bankruptcy. in debt. Thus, the price spike for many households had come as a shock.

“We’re a still recovering economy, an economy that’s down 25%,” Vettas said. “Although it is now growing faster than many others in Europe thanks in part to tourism, the energy crisis and war in Ukraine are huge threats that cannot be ignored.”

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