Germans’ holiday romance with Greece thrives despite political wrangling

German holidaymakers are increasingly flocking to Greece, leaving the acrimonious wrangling between the two capitals over Athens’ debt mountain, halting reforms or fears of a “Grexit” to the politicians.

“Little by little, people do realize that politics has nothing to do with the reality of tourism,” George Trivizas, of the tour operator Kentavros, said at the Berlin tourism fair, running until March 8.

The allure of Greece’s picturesque beaches, azure skies and diverse islands drew around 2.5 million Germans in 2014, an 8.5-percent rise on the previous year, according to the Bank of Greece.

For package holidays alone, the increase was 17 percent, Germany’s DRV federation of travel agents said.

And for 2015, the DRV expects more growth despite recent barbed exchanges between Greek and German ministers as bailed-out Athens wrestles to bring down its debt that now equals about 175 percent of annual economic output.

Sporting a badge with overlapping Greek and German flags, Trivizas said bookings from Germany were already up in the first few months of this year.

The trend, and especially its timing, may surprise some.

The same period has seen Greece’s new anti-austerity government face skepticism in Europe’s top economy as it negotiated an extension to its huge bailout amid German taxpayers’ fears of having to stump up more aid. Germany has prescribed strict austerity measures for the eurozone’s debt-mired members while it has largely shrugged off the turbulence to continue to post overall growth with one of the bloc’s lowest unemployment rates. “What affects us more is the German economy, more than the politics,” Trivizas, who is also a board member of GePoet, a Greek federation of tourism businesses, told AFP.

Rolf Schrader, of ReiseAnalyse, a Berlin-based tourism analysis company, said Greece had dropped off as Germans’ holiday destination of choice in the early 2000s, well before the eurozone crisis began.

He compiles an annual survey among 8,000 Germans with Ipsos market research company.

“For two years, it has been going up again,” he said, adding Greece was now nearly back up to its 3.5-percent market share from 2002.

Last year vacations in Greece accounted for 2.9 percent of destinations for Germans, compared to 1.8 percent two years earlier.

Back in 2012, the eurozone crisis was at its height and Greece’s image was marred by frequent strikes and violence on the sidelines of anti-austerity demonstrations.

Greece could even soon overtake France in the table of Germans’ top holiday spots if the trend continues, although Spain, Italy, Turkey and Austria still remain far ahead in their affections.

Around a quarter of Germans said in a poll at the beginning of the year that a holiday in Greece was appealing, 67 percent said the sun and heat were decisive factors in choosing their destination.

With its weather, natural assets and tourism track record, Manos Iatrou, of Hellenic Island Services which organizes trips to Greek islands, said there was no “secret recipe” for Greece’s popularity.

Tensions between Athens and Berlin, effectively the eurozone’s paymaster, are “purely political” and have nothing to do with tourism, he insisted.

However he acknowledged that sales had temporarily flattened out over a two-week period around the time in late January when Greece’s radical left Syriza party won elections on the back of promises to roll back the country’s painful austerity program.

It hasn’t stopped some trying to mix up tourism and politics, though.

Two conservative German lawmakers, Axel Fischer and Ruediger Kruse, have suggested a compensation scheme for German tourists whose expenditure while in Greece helps boost the economy.

Under the proposal, a German holidaymaker on their return would be reimbursed 500 euros ($551) by the German state on presentation of restaurant and hotel bills, on condition that the hotel and eatery in question have paid their taxes.