The American market is proving to be the biggest gambit of the year for Greece’s holiday season. Despite advice released from the State Department this week that Americans should avoid traveling to Greece, along with 130 other countries, due to the difficult epidemiological situation this summer the major US carriers have scheduled the highest number of direct flights to Athens in many years.
Notably, this August there will be at least seven direct services between the US and Athens International Airport; if one also counts connection flights to Athens and the country’s regional airports via major European cities, an estimated 40,000 seats will be available per week for trips from the US to Greece.
United Airlines is launching a daily service between New York (Newark) and Athens on June 3, and another between Washington and Athens from July 1. Delta is starting even earlier, flying from New York (JFK) to Athens every day as of May 28. Delta will have two daily flights from New York and one from Atlanta.
American will have a daily service from JFK to Athens from June 3 and a daily flight from Chicago to Athens from June 4. American will also operate a direct flight from Philadelphia to Athens from August 17. Emirates will also have daily scheduled flights from Newark to Athens from June 1. All these flights are already on the online booking systems of these airlines. According to sources from Athens International Airport who spoke to Kathimerini, we will find out in late May whether this planned availability will translate into bookings.
Travel between the United States and Greece has been allowed since April 19 and, if it is not undermined by the pandemic and the epidemiological situation in Greece, is expected to significantly boost the tourism industry, especially in Athens. This is largely because, of all the foreign tourists who visit Greece, Americans spend the most per person, and in 2019 ranked first in a report by the Bank of Greece on the countries that contributed the most tourist revenues with over 1.18 billion dollars and 1.17 million tourists.
The average US visitor spent approximately 1,008 euros per person, 78.8% higher than the average of 564 euros. Last year, however, with international travel practically banned by the US government, arrivals and tourist revenue from the United States were reduced by almost 95%.
Greece’s cultivation of a very good brand name last year (the first year of the pandemic), viewed as a safe destination, and the significant concentrated demand for international travel by Americans recorded by both airlines and tour operators have led the airline operators to put on as many direct flights to Greece as they can this year.
Additionally, the US authorities do not impose a mandatory quarantine period on Americans returning to the United States if they have been vaccinated or can produce a negative PCR test. This means that Greece’s biggest gambit is containing the spread of Covid-19 over the next two to four weeks so that the US authorities retract the travel advisory against visiting the country and demand is rejuvenated.
While reviewing its travel advisory, the US State Department proceeded to move Greece from a Category 3 country (advice to re-evaluate travel) to a Category 4 (advice to avoid travel). This development didn’t just affect Greece, since the State Department decided to update its travel advisory with new international epidemiological data and moved approximately 100 countries into Category 4 in order to better reflect the scientific advice by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
A spokesperson for the State Department, when commenting on these developments, made it clear that, given the prevailing conditions, most countries are classified either as Category 3 or 4, and further elaborated that “the category with which every country is ranked is based on the current estimate of conditions there, which can constantly change due to the developing nature of the threat and the strategies adopted by the countries.”
However, the CDC in early April announced that Americans who have been vaccinated can travel abroad with minimal risk to themselves and without having to quarantine on their return, unless required at a state level. This, according to current information available to Kathimerini, still holds. However, they must display a negative test prior to their return to the United States. Additionally, they will have to undergo a second test three to five days after their return.
The spokesperson for the State Department mentioned that there is the possibility of a further update of its travel advice, explaining that it is a dynamic and continuous process. “We regularly examine the safety of destinations across the world and will update information on specific destinations when it is judged necessary,” they stated.
Greece has been chosen by many American travel operators, including cruise operators, as one of the few European destinations that are considered safe for tourists, not just because of its successful management of the pandemic, but also because of last year’s safe operation of hotels and the rapid development of the vaccination program.