Cheap deals luring foreigners to Greece
Athens – A year ago tourists venturing to Greece for their summer holidays risked becoming caught up in violent demonstrations and strikes against the country’s tough austerity measures.
But this summer, foreigners are flocking to the sun-drenched Greek islands and the mainland by the millions.
If last year showed tourism in free-fall, foreign visitors are returning to Greece in record numbers this year. They’ve been lured – in part – by discounts of up to 20 percent on resorts and hotels, raising hopes that the sector may help the country to pull itself out of a severe economic crisis.
Director General of the Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises (SETE) Georgios Drakopoulos said that the improved political stability compared to 2012 – when the country was in the midst of hard-fought back-to-back elections – had helped.
So, too, has a drop in prices, the lifting of visa restrictions in emerging markets such as Russia and China, and the cancellation of holidays to Egypt and Turkey, because of political unrest there.
?We have seen a rebound from people who did not choose Greece last year because of all the uncertainty,? Drakopoulos told dpa.
Greece’s Ministry of Tourism expects a record 17 million tourists to visit in 2013, bringing the recession-ravaged country 11 billion euros in much-needed revenue.
?The image of Greece is improving and people are no longer afraid that their vacation will be disrupted by protests and airport strikes,? said Agapi Sbokou, of the Blue Spa Resort, on the island of Crete.
Tourism officials have announced a 10 percent increase in foreign arrivals at airports for the first half of 2013, with popular islands such as Mykonos enjoying a 60 percent increase.
?We are seeing more and more foreign tourists from new emerging markets such as India and Brazil coming to Mykonos,? said Philip Michopoulos, co-owner of the local Kivotos Hotel.
Tourism accounts for almost 20 percent of GDP and roughly one in five jobs in Greece, where unemployment has risen to nearly 28 percent, the highest in the eurozone.
Greece has long been a popular destination for people from Germany and Britain. It’s now also an attractive holiday spot for an increasing number of tourists from China, Japan, Korea and Eastern European countries. Well over a million Russians are expected to visit this year.
The sharp rise in tourists is also partly attributed to a 40 percent increase in passengers on cruise ships, mostly from the United States, and many new direct routes to Greece.
?We now have five direct flights a week from Moscow and St. Petersburg alone,? said Kalia Konstantinidou, of Vedema and Mystique resorts on the island of Santorini.
The island, known for its breathtaking scenery, local wine and gastronomy, has seen a huge influx of foreign tourists.
But while Greece stands to gain from the surge in foreign visitors this year, the number of Greek nationals holidaying in their own country stands to suffer.
Many Greeks have seen their salaries slashed because of the economic crisis, and are having a hard time making ends meet. They will not be taking a long summer break.
According to a recent survey carried out by the country’s consumer institute, INKA, more than two-thirds of Greeks said they would not go away on holiday this summer.
A large number of Greek vacationers said they would only manage to get away for five days. More than half of those polled said they would either go camping, or stay with family or friends, rather than at hotels.
But for some Greeks, even those relatively simple options are now seen as a luxury.