Tom Ellis TOM ELLIS

Tourism in Greece and tough dilemmas

COMMENT

TAGS: Coronavirus, Tourism, Economy

Almost every country in the world is struggling to find the right balance between protecting the public’s health and restarting the economy. Safeguarding human life is obviously the top priority, but economic activity and employment are also extremely important. Greece is no exception in this dilemma and is seeking its own equilibrium.

Bolstered by the country’s positive course and the small number of new coronavirus infections in recent weeks, the government decided to adopt an aggressive stance on the reopening of tourism. Apart from a raft of tax-related measures, it decided to open hotels that operate seasonally on June 15, two weeks earlier than originally planned, and also to strengthen health infrastructure on small islands.

The biggest dilemma lies in international travel, which will commence in mid-June from some destinations to Athens and be expanded to regional airports gradually as of July 1. In a bid to secure a bigger piece of an obviously shrinking pie, the government decided – perhaps by necessity, but still risky – that foreign travelers entering Greece will not have to be quarantined or tested (though some spot tests will be carried out randomly).

As of July 1, flights will be allowed to all of Greece’s airports from all countries except those with a “negative” performance in coronavirus containment.

So far it seems that the opening will be made to countries in the Schengen zone and the European Union more generally, in Eastern Europe, the Balkans and Israel.

However, major markets like the US, Canada, Australia and UK are not among them, although they are a significant source of revenue for Greece, raising the issue of what criteria will be used to determine which countries the opening will include. The equation is made even more complicated by the large numbers of members of the Greek diaspora in those countries, who tend to travel as a family and stay for an extended holiday, contributing to many sectors of the Greek economy.

The hope is that despite lackluster bookings, Greece will do well this summer. But all the good progress made in the past couple of months and all the good press this has generated can be wiped out fast if there is a spike in infections, perhaps even as a result of the government’s bold decision to allow tourists greater freedom. This would be devastating for the country, which this time around has managed to put itself in the headlines for all the right reasons.

Greece is being hailed as a top tourist destination during an extremely challenging season. Nevertheless, there is also a very real risk that any negative developments will attract an inordinate amount of international media coverage.

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