Greece Bets All Tourists Will Come During COVID-19 Pandemic | greece economy

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ATHENS – Jumping in the race for foreign visitors ahead of other countries in the European Union, Greece is relying on vaccines and easing COVID-19 lockdown restrictions to attract tourists who are the country’s biggest revenue driver.

The New Democracy government, which banned inter-regional travel for Greeks during Easter week, has already opened up to tourists from some selected countries who may show proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test.

This includes key markets in the European Union and the United States, with crazy Greek Americans coming to their family’s home country, as well as Serbia, Israel – where most of the population has been vaccinated. – and the United Kingdom, which still bans its residents. travel.

And now, those from Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Russia, Rwanda, Singapore and Thailand with proof of vaccination are allowed to enter without fear of quarantine before the general opening of Greece on May 14.

It’s a race to save summer, with Greece ranked as a top destination for people who want to emerge from lockdowns and the darkness of fear and once again travel to a land renowned for sunshine, hospitality. , happiness and spitting death in the face.

Airlines are also lining up, providing 2,000 seats a day for the summer period and now American Airlines and United Airlines are joining Delta to offer non-stop flights to Athens while Emirates will serve the Greek capital from Newark, NJ. .

In a report, CNN noted pent-up demand as well as people who were at the forefront of tourism in Greece, with the New Democracy government allowing restaurants and taverns to close more than half of the previous year. to open for outdoor dining on May 3, the day after Easter.

Visitors will, it seems, have to comply with health restrictions that many Greeks quickly ignore, despite still wearing masks but no safe social distancing, with Greek churches showing huge queues for the celebrations of Easter week.

And although the government does not allow travel to ancestral villages for Easter, more than 11,000 people have found exemptions allowed to pass police checkpoints to reach them.

Most of the rest of the EU remains under lock and key, giving Greece an open playing field despite concerns that the pandemic has not been defeated: less than 8% of Greeks are fully vaccinated and care units Intensive (ICU) are still mostly full and stubbornly high cases.

Health experts from the group of doctors and government scientists who fear openness have been left out in the economy gamble while hoping to save lives at the same time.

Why?

Tourism brings in up to 18-20% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), or 165.53 billion euros ($ 200.3 billion) and is the largest employer with some 825,000 jobs – 934,000 in 2018 during a series of record-breaking years that ended in 2020 with the scourge of COVID-19.

Critics, including rival parties, fear that the country’s healthcare system can barely take another critical case because the government has failed to decide, as promised, to requisition private hospitals.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ government is speeding up very late vaccinations because it relied on a cumbersome European Union distribution system that failed outright, but it is not making them mandatory for healthcare workers.

Greeks need tourists and their money – some 31.3 million of them came in the record-breaking year of 2019, including a string of celebrities – to try to accelerate the recovery from an economic crisis nearly ten years.

For many Greeks, this was made worse by tough austerity measures linked to three international bailouts of 326 billion euros ($ 394.39 billion) which ended on August 20, 2018 but the crisis persists until ‘that the anti-business radical left SYRIZA be ousted on July 7, 2019 early elections.

Mitsotakis went full speed ahead with plans to cut taxes and attract foreign investors scared of leftists, and he lobbied for the development of the long-running 8 billion euros ($ 9.68 billion) project. date to transform the abandoned Hellenikon International Airport on the Athens coast. in a multi-use complex and a park.

This has been temporarily derailed by the pandemic, but investors are also keen to put their money back into Greece, and luxury hotels and chains are rushing to build and open new facilities – where guests this year must adhere to health rules.

WHY NOT US?

The Greeks are happy that people are coming – especially islanders whose livelihoods depend on it – but are not happy that they are still subject to certain restrictions despite being widely challenged, with the government making no move to stop mass public youth parties in town squares.

Technically, Greeks need government permission to travel for authorized missions, but the second you text a cell phone there’s a ding saying you’re good to go.

Schools are reopening, as are malls for indoor shopping – but restaurants can’t have meals inside and musicians have complained they can’t hold concerts – and the government will make self-assessment mandatory for public sector workers.

Most businesses have been allowed to reopen with limits on the number of customers in stores, although shoppers can shop online and pick up merchandise outside, at safe distances from each other.

Dr Theoklis Zaoutis, professor of pediatrics and epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and a member of the government advisory committee, told CNN that openness to tourism is also key to morale.

“We want to give the (Greek) people a glimmer of hope, given that everyone is tired,” he told CNN. “If the numbers get better or worse, we have the opportunity to change the roadmap,” he added. “We now have two tools that we did not have last year, namely vaccines and self-test kits. Twenty-five percent of the population has received at least one dose of the vaccine. The goal is to ‘increase immunization at all ages. “

While U.S. airlines show demand for summer seats, there hasn’t been a crush on spring as tourists still show anxiety mixed with needs, and the numbers aren’t. still significant.

Most small hotels in Athens are still closed, many owners have switched from Airbnb to renting after the bottom of the market collapsed during the pandemic when no one came and there are still concerns as to security.

Boutique property 18 Micon Str., A short walk from Monastiraki Square in mid-March, but was 90% empty, said Frini Spanaki, manager of the company that owns the hotel.

But she thinks people will come back now.

“We have bookings mainly from mid-May, the majority of UK, US, Israel, France, Denmark and Belgium, with 99% of them on a flexible basis, ”she said, with flight schedules still being worked out.

“I think Athens is a safe destination,” she said. “Protecting the health and safety of visitors is now embedded in the culture of all industries. Therefore, there is no reason for anyone to hesitate to book a vacation in Athens or the islands.”

It is not showing itself yet, even around the Acropolis, but the hope is not only vaccinations and self-tests, but the attraction of the tractor beam of Greece in the spring, with flowers in bloom, and in the sun, with joy and beaches replacing terror over COVID-19.

If the tourists are not there yet, the bet is that they will be, led by a cavalcade of Greek Americans.

Katerina Rodopoulou, Rodopoulou, who makes delicate silver earrings and necklaces by hand, has yet to receive a foreign client since it reopened earlier in April and said the whole economy should open up.

“It’s a somewhat strange situation, in terms of how visitors will come here without being quarantined and what will happen here with the vaccination. It all seems very unclear,” Rodopoulou also said.

“I don’t expect visitors to start pouring in on May 15. I think people might even be slightly more reluctant to travel this year because Greece has not shown that it is managing the pandemic effectively. . “

Mina Agnos, founder and president of inbound destination management company Travelive, said vacation bookings for Greece from her customers, 70% of whom are North American, are growing rapidly and with fury.

“We had a lot of early bookings, especially for August and September. I think September will be peak season this year,” she said.

“There has been a change this week after the announcement of Greece’s reopening. It looks like we’ll have a good number of travelers from the United States this year, especially since they haven’t could visit last year. “



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