Hotels and guesthouses at Greek winter destinations have been particularly affected by the pandemic, suffering through the lockdown periods with no occupancy or revenue. While efforts were made to (somewhat successfully) save the important summer season in 2020 and 2021, those depending on winter visitors are now pinning all their hope on a few weekends, and the upcoming holidays.
Tourist establishments in mainland areas suffered their first blow as early as spring 2020, when the March carnival festivities were cancelled as the first measure for limiting the new threat of the coronavirus. The following winter, lockdown encompassed the holidays – the most important time of the year for tourism in the Greek mountains. While hotels were allowed to stay open, travel between prefectures was prohibited and all restaurants, including hotel restaurants, and ski resorts remained closed.
Hotels in mountain villages are mostly comparatively small, often family-run establishments; cabins and cozy rooms featuring fireplaces and views of pine- and snow-covered mountains which are, albeit not yet what most foreign tourists envision they’ll find in Greece, very popular destinations among Greeks in the winter. As pointed out to newspaper Kathimerini by the President of the Hellenic Chamber of Hotels, Alexandros Vassilikos, besides being the hotels that closed first and are now opening last, the small size of these hotels also makes the burden of the new health protocols “disproportionately high in relation to the summer resorts.”
Mainly domestic tourism
While Greece has been working towards expanding the tourism season, advertising its beautiful winter destinations which are often overlooked or unknown to foreign travelers, these destinations still rely first and foremost on domestic tourism. During the pandemic, this proved a double-edged sword. While international travel restrictions were less of an issue here compared to on the islands, depending completely on the Greek visitors who normally provide nearly 90% -95% occupancy during winter weekends, including three long weekends, and Christmas, became devastating.
Currently, hotels are seeing at most 50%-60% occupancy on weekends, and bookings for the holidays are as low as 30%-35%, Kathimerini reports – a very low rate compared to that recorded during this time in 2019, when bookings were already at 70% occupancy. Worth noting is that, as the same article states, a significant amount of these bookings come from beneficiaries of the government’s social tourism programs, which granted subsidized vacation vouchers to over 300,000 Greeks this year.
Greece is a mostly a mountainous country, blessed with a beautiful natural environment and interesting rural traditions, and efforts are constantly being made to develop mountain tourism, as well as to showcase lesser-known “alternative” destinations on foreign markets.
This article first appeared in Greece-Is.com, an English-language publishing initiative by Kathimerini.