Attractive foreign package holiday deals luring Greeks away from traditional local destinations

Swimming on Paros or in Bali? Wild nights on Myconos or in Havana? Good service at hotels in Hania or Mauritius? It’s not an easy dilemma to resolve for those who associate holidays with the blue waters of the Aegean, the arid landscapes of the Cyclades or the pine-fringed beaches of northern Greece. But as vacationers increasingly consider finances more carefully, more of them are deciding to spend their summer leave abroad. The reason is clear. A 10-day trip to a luxurious resort in Phuket, Thailand, costs 589 euros a person, when a double room in an equivalent hotel on Crete, Myconos or Santorini might cost more than 275 euros a day. The high season for Greek tourism coincides with winter – and low season prices – in Thailand. And who cares about winter when the temperature is 32 Celsius (90 Fahrenheit) in Bangkok? In any case, the comparison applies to many European travel destinations. A six-day trip to Paris costs 595 euros, while four days in Rome costs 485 euros and eight days in Cyprus 490 euros. High-quality service As Spyros Bouzanis, vice president of the League of Tourism and Travel Agencies and head of the foreign travel desk of Monogram Tours, told Kathimerini, the ratio of domestic to foreign travel has been reversed in recent years. «Greeks seem to have realized that a trip abroad is cheaper in the end,» he said. «There is nothing like the Aegean anywhere else, of course, but exotic places, the experience of traveling, and exceptional service are sufficient compensation.» He and other travel agents point out that trips abroad are an affordable solution, not only for couples but also for families, as airlines offer half-fares to children under 12 and many hotels accept children free of charge. Many exciting destinations offer affordable family package holidays, if you search for them systematically and in good time. For example, a family or a group of friends can rent a 280-square-meter house in Vietnam for $2,500 a month (full service included). Cheaper terms are available at farms in Austria and elsewhere in northern Europe, where children can have free horseback riding lessons, for example. The cheapest trips at this time of year are to resorts in Southeast Asia, such as Bali, Phuket, Samoui and Bangkok. Prices range from 589 to 850 euros, with the most expensive eight-day trip being 950 euros, to Mauritius. «Things are different in Greece now with airlines such as Qatar Airways and Gulf Air. Competition has forced prices down, making package tours very cheap,» explained Bouzanis. «Thailand was always a cheap destination, After the tsunami, the authorities made a huge effort to attract visitors again,» said Paris Bantoudis of Cel Tours. Prices of organized trips to European cities are attractive too. While a night in a twin room at a four-star hotel in Hania, Crete, costs 140 euros with breakfast, an eight-day trip to a first-class hotel in Madrid with a guided tour of Andalusia costs 795 euros, and a three-day trip to Paris 350 euros. «The weather is perfect in summer in northern European cities. Anyone who wants to visit Prague now is sure to enjoy it. And the business fairs that raise hotel rates and air fares in Paris, Rome and Madrid don’t start until fall,» said Antonis Karelas, chief of foreign travel for TUI Hellas. «If someone is looking for a cheaper package in Greece, they will compromise on service. They’ll choose a three-star hotel, when for the same money anywhere abroad they would get high-quality service,» Karelas said. Traveling to Latin America, China or Russia still costlier than staying in Greece In terms of overall cost, holidays in Greece are cheaper than those in China, Russia, Cuba, Mexico and Brazil. For instance, a 10-day trip to China and Mongolia with full board and guided tours costs 1,119 euros, while nine days in Havana costs 1,150 euros, and a 12-day trip costs 1,590 euros in Venezuela and 1,750 euros in Brazil. Travel to Central America is still expensive, according to Bouzanis, because only two airlines, Air France and Iberia, suit Greeks going to Latin America. «Despite that, there is a huge demand in the Greek market,» Spyros Bouzanis said. «If we had 200 seats a week, we could fill them all. The experience of traveling is paramount in this case.» That view is confirmed by Tina Sklavolia, an employee in the private sector, who is planning to spend her vacation in Cuba this year. «Holidays on Greek islands are more or less the same: the beach in the morning, out for a drink at night,» she told Kathimerini. «But when you travel abroad, you see and do new things. You have new experiences.»

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