The race is on as Greece officials cross their fingers hoping vaccinations will dam up the inevitable rise in COVID-19 cases before tourists arrive May 15th. The latest data from EODY is not good news as cases have spiked to 3,421 in the last 24 hours. With the tourism season set to be fully open in a week, the pandemic situation is still questionable.
This week lockdown measures were eased back in an effort to normalize for the expected arrival of tourists mid-month. Here in Heraklion, restaurants and stores have reopened, and schools will be fully open by May 10. Since Easter, the masks have virtually disappeared, traffic is intense, and the sense that “all’s well” seems to have permeated the collective conscience. But underneath, at the place where reality lives, expectations for a stellar tourist season are low.
The good news is, the vaccination program seems to have accelerated drastically. This is counterbalanced by the clear uptick in cases and deaths, which show clearly that eased measures equal greater risk to everyone. Tourism Minister Harry Theoharis is hard at his job of pumping up the touristic volume. Everywhere we read of his interviews with people like the legendary Peter Greenburg, CBS News facilitator at WTTC in Cancun.
Greenberg does a great job in the interview below, of setting up Theoharis as some kind of savior of sustainable, safe, and genius-like tourism re-bootability. I hate to be curt here, but in the interview, the Greek tourism minister looks like he had way too many umbrella drinks the night before. Either that, or he was away three nights there in Mexico’s most famous party destination. That said, the people I speak with on the streets of Heraklion has zero faith that their government has a clue. Theorharis and his boss brag about their marvelous administrative moves, the media they engage with mirror the narrative, but the reality seems a stark contrast.
While Theoharis bears the signs of late nights in Cancun, back home in Greece hoteliers haven’t enough cash to wash linens for guests, and bookings are nothing near what they have to be to sustain. 83 more people perished because of this virus in the last day. The Hellenic Federation of Hoteliers (POX) is screaming out loud begging for help with the overexposure of hotels that have been devastated by this pandemic. Not only has Athens forgotten liquidity issues for hoteliers, but the leadership also seems to think the only missing variable here is a throng of travelers coming ashore. Theoharis was in Atlanta too, stirring up interest in vacationing in Greece. Unfortunately, American tourists are not going to save anybody this year.
The U.S. State Department issued “Do Not Travel” advisories for about 80% of the world’s nations, including many in Europe. So, even though Americans will be officially allowed to travel to Greece, most will vacation in the Caribbean as per usual. While Greece does typically get more North American travelers than many European destinations, the bulk of Greek visitations come from elsewhere in Europe. And Europeans are broke, for the most part, on account of stringent pandemic measures and slain economies. This Bloomberg story explains other variables. The bottom line is, it will take some serious incentives to get Greece’s tourism season back on track. And, the pandemic situation is still far from clear-cut, even if Peter Greenberg is talking positively with Greece’s tourism boss.