Greece’s 2021 tourism data will most likely exceed expectations shaped by the coronavirus pandemic. It would be premature, of course, to draw any final conclusions about the season; however, the country appears to have saved the day, notwithstanding the serious losses compared to the pre-Covid era.
That said, it has to be acknowledged that visitors traveling through Greece’s northern borders played a key role in keeping its key tourist industry alive. The Balkan tourist reservoir supported resorts across the country, upmarket as well as humble. Gone are the days when the description “Balkan tourist” was intended as a sarcastic joke.
The societies and the economies of Greece’s northern neighbors now allow their citizens to travel and to spend money. And some, in fact, spend quite a lot of it.
Romanian, Serbian, Bulgarian, North Macedonian, Czech, Polish and Albanian tourists tend to prefer Mykonos, Santorini, Paros, Crete, Halkidiki and the Ionian islands for their holidays. The less well off usually flock to beaches across the mainland, providing that much needed boost to local economies.
Balkan tourists can be spotted around the country these days. Over the summer months, Greek airports are receiving charter flights from Balkan capitals, while many tourists arrive by car. A lot of them can now afford top-notch hotels.
Until the pandemic struck, Greece could afford to debate what sort of tourism it preferred. Most naturally it had a soft spot for the more affluent European, American and, perhaps, Chinese, visitors. The constant rise of living standards among Greece’s northern neighbors and the millions of potential customers leave no room for arrogance or bias. Changes must be taken into account in any plans to lure quality tourism.
Many of our competitors, most prominently Turkey, have taken notice of the shift in the Balkan tourism market. The National Tourism Organization seeks to advertise Greece on the back of the country’s areas of unique natural beauty and people’s love for our country. But this is not enough.
Greek tourism will have to overcome its superiority complex and (also) invest in Balkan capital. Money has neither color nor nationality.