Greece is exceeding the expectations of the few visitors traveling to the country for holidays during what is proving to be a very difficult summer for Greek tourism.
Despite having opened its borders to dozens of countries since July 1, Greece does not expect to receive more than a fraction of the record number of 33 million tourists who visited in 2019, before this season ends. For those who chose to set foot outside their own country, however, what they found in Greece was a pleasnt surprise.
Sonia drove from France across Greece’s northern border and south to Athens, finding the journey relatively easy. “Crossing the border was very smooth. The Greek government provided us with QR [quick response] codes before entry so we could be traced easily, which was a little stressful, but I am happy for their concern for keeping us safe,” she says.
Prospective tourists often cite the perceived inconvenience of air travel during the pandemic but Marie, also from France, is among those who were “surprised by how easy it was” to fly to Greece. “There was hardly anyone on the airplane so everything was quick,” she remarks.
Early lockdown not only saved lives in Greece but enabled the country to reopen to foreign visitors in the hope of making up some of the revenue lost in the first few months of the would-be tourist season.
As illustrated by its Health First tourism campaign, the center-right government wants travelers to feel secure in Greece. Safety measures such as the use of masks on all public transport, including on the ferries to popular island destinations, and the requirement that all hospitality workers also cover their nose and mouth, are just some of the steps the government has taken to ensure tourists feel safe.
Some tourists actually admit to feeling safer in Greece than in their own country. “Not many people wear masks here compared to Belgium,” says Saul from Brussels. “You really get the sense that people have returned to normalcy in Greece.”
Considering Greece’s still relatively low rate of coronavirus transmission and with almost half of new cases being imported by foreign visitors, it’s no wonder that Saul, Marie and Sonia all agree that if there is one thing they feel, it’s safe.
From backpacker hostels to five-star hotels, accommodations units are implementing stringent health protocols to keep guests and staff safe. One high-end Athens hotel, for example, has introduced a request-only maid service to limit contact between employees and travelers.
However, Jonas from Berlin notes: “I guess there’s hand sanitizer in my room, but I hardly notice anything else. Greece is just so open it really feels like nothing happened.”
Despite socially distanced queueing, archaeological sites like the Acropolis are functioning as normal, with one major added perk for tourists: the absence of crowds. “It’s wonderful. I was so excited when Greece opened up because I knew there would be fewer people. I have not had to line up anywhere – even at the Acropolis,”Martina from Germany remarks.
She is correct; even a quick survey of the Acropolis shows it to be far less crowded than a usual day during the high season – a sorry sight for those who had been banking on this year’s tourist season for income. A nearby shopkeeper says she is “still waiting for tourists” – hoping that the handful that have arrived so far increase now that Greece has opened to the United Kingdom and Sweden.
Greece is expected to bring in only 15% of last year’s total revenue and its debt is seen soaring to almost 200% of economic output, reversing the hard-earned gains of the past few years. However, for the few tourists who have made the journey,one thing is clear: Greece is their sunny haven from the coronavirus.
Hazel Genieser is a high-school student currently serving a summer internship with Kathimerini English Edition.