BUSINESS

Trust in Greece, but few bookings this season

ILIAS BELLOS

TAGS: Tourism, Coronavirus, Survey

Potential visitors to Greece are worried about contracting the coronavirus, put off by possible complications during their flights to and from the country and their stay here, and showing signs of shrinking disposable income levels. In addition, the majority of those who plan to travel to Greece are unlikely to do so before the fall. On top of that, a second wave of Covid-19 would intensify their concerns and worsen their financial situation. Only one in four appears willing to travel between July and September but even they are feeling discouraged by the unprecedented travel conditions.

The findings, which were exclusively presented by Kathimerini, are based on a recent survey conducted by Mindhaus, a tourism marketing strategy agency and member of V+O Greece, in collaboration with the Pollfish survey platform. They were discussed Tuesday during a forum held by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). About a quarter of respondents (24.7 percent) said that they are likely to go on holiday abroad in the next three months (July-September), while 32.9% said they were likely to travel between October and the end of the year.

According to the survey, the desire for international leisure travel is growing but potential travelers are primarily concerned about problems related to transport and their destinations. So Greece’s status as a preferred destination, also thanks to a sense of security built on the successful management of the pandemic, has been reinforced, but it’s unlikely this will mean much in terms of demand, also in light of rising competition from Croatia, Egypt and Turkey.

The survey was carried out on June 25 across a sample of 3,000 people in the US, the UK, France, Germany and Italy who had planned an international vacation in 2020. It was the follow-up to a survey conducted between May 13 and 14, a few days before Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced the reopening of Greek tourism. Back then, Mindhaus found that 66% of respondents said they wanted to travel outside their home country, while noting they considered security and relaxation more important than the previous year.

The May survey also found Greece to be one of the most attractive destinations in the Mediterranean to visit between June and August. The finding has been verified by the follow-up survey.

According to the latest poll, the percentage of the people who want to travel outside their home country has risen by 4.4% to 70.9%. But their primary concern is now the lifting of all travel restrictions.

In fact, people seem to think that removing curbs is more important than the availability of a vaccine against Covid-19. The development of a cure is after all unlikely to take place before the end of the year as different countries are at different stages of the pandemic and there is no common European Union policy on the matter. As a result, demand by the end of 2020 could actually fall below current projections.

Theofilos Kyratsoulis, general director at Mindhaus, believes that “this year will be extremely difficult for Greek tourism; achieving 15 percent of last year’s tourism revenue will be a success.” He says that strong desire for leisure travel and Greece’s reinforced status will not mean corresponding demand levels as long as the pandemic remains active, because travel restrictions have not been fully lifted and pressure from the competition is high.

Nevertheless, the latest study shows that Greece’s status as a tourism destination – also in terms of security – is gaining strength among foreign markets.

More specifically, 63.9% said that a trip to Greece is equally or even more attractive than before the pandemic, which is up by 4.4% compared to May 13-14. Meanwhile, the percentage of those who said that a trip to Greece is more or much more attractive compared to pre-Covid times rose by 24.9% between the two surveys.

Two in three respondents, meanwhile, said that Greece has successfully managed the health crisis, a 9.9% increase compared to the May survey. There has also been a steady rise in the six-week period between the two surveys in Greece’s position among the destinations travelers from key markets see themselves choosing for their next vacation: The choice of Greece rose 20.37% among French holidaymakers (with 13.59% of responses), 9.76% in the US (12.9% of responses) and 5.86% in the UK (12.1% of responses). Only the Italian market saw a drop, of 8.76% compared with mid-May (17.5% of responses). That said, competition with rival markets also rose. Apart from Spain, France and Italy, the respondents also expressed a growing preference for Croatia compared to mid-May: +54.33% from Germany (10.88% of responses), +30.24% from the UK (4.91% of responses), +9.92% from Italy (9.42% of responses), +3.49% from France (8.89% of responses) and +89.9% from the US (2.83% of responses). Likewise, in Germany, more people expressed a preference for Egypt, with the figure up 32% to 7.89% of responses, while in the British market Turkey was on the rise (+11.56%, 6.95% of responses), compared with mid-May.

What does all this tell us? That demand for holidays in Greece is strong but is not being reflected in bookings yet. “No one should expect, even under the most optimistic scenario, more than 20-25% of last year’s revenues from tourism, which translates into around 4-5 billion euros,” says Yiannis Retsos, the president of the Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises.

The other thing it tells us is that key markets like the United States, Britain and Russia are basically out of the running and will be that way for some months to come. These are markets that account for 20% of the country’s overall revenues from tourism – and much more for specific destinations and hotels that rely on one another.

The possibility of ending up in quarantine appears to be the key deterrent. After being in lockdown for several weeks or even months, many potential tourists are also put off by the idea of traveling to other countries and coming into contact with still more foreign tourists when there is no cure or treatment for the coronavirus yet.

As countries start to open their borders, the likelihood of imported cases from countries with a much higher rate of infections increases, which leads to the question: What are the main concerns about traveling in 2020?

To begin with, worries about the impact of the health crisis on personal finances and the cost of travel respectively went up between the two surveys by 24.1% (13.2% of responses) and 23.8% (8.2% of responses).

Second was fears about being quarantined (22%), followed by the likelihood of falling ill (19.8%), health policies and protocols (14.1%) and cancellation policies in travel and accommodation (11.7%).

“As the need to feel safe becomes the key issue among travelers, destinations and tourism businesses that adapt and manage to communicate this in a clever, creative and positive way, that are true to their promise for a carefree and safe holiday, that are also able to successfully manage any cases of Covid-19 that may emerge – both at the operational level and at the level of communication – are the ones that stand to benefit from the crisis,” says Kyratsoulis.

It is worth pointing out other data showing that prices for holidays are becoming increasingly competitive. The UK-based price comparison website TravelSupermarket, for example, shows a reduction of 22-37% for holiday packages for Southern Europe since the lockdown started in Britain, along with a rise of 52% in bookings for these packages once the government started outlining in late June how restrictions would be lifted.

Online travel platform Trivago is also reporting that Germany (which has done comparably well with the pandemic) has emerged as the driving force of European tourism, though holidays by car are more popular among Germans than those involving air travel. A further reduction in prices may, however, convince more Germans to fly.

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