Is Greece’s tourism restart about to be the biggest flop in history, or will last-minute bookings rescue the COVID stricken economy? With mixed signals all around, it’s just hard to tell what is going on with only days and counting until the 2021 tourist season begins in earnest.
On the one hand, media outlets and government ministries have been announcing nothing but positive figures with regard to the “outlook” for 2021. From TUI pledging 300,000 tourists, to Tourism Minister Harry Theoharis in Moscow, Cancun, Atlanta, Israel, and other markets, the PR has all been about agreements. But the numbers don’t seem to be there.
Take a statement from the Director of the Greek National Tourism Organization (GNTO) service in Germany Paraskevi-Maria Stroubou last week. The official says Greece is still considered a “high-risk” area for German authorities. She went on to say most Germans are reluctant to travel to Greek destinations for fear and uncertainty over COVID.
Aegean Airlines and other corporate stakeholders are also betting on Summer 2021. Meanwhile, the hoteliers are dramatically overexposed because the government was not proactive enough to consider their operational costs in the mix of strategies to reboot tourism. The bottom line is, this gamble on tourism bears all the signs of a catastrophe if something very positive does not happen soon.
Already, hoteliers reporting that cancellations are “pouring in” from British tourists on account of officials designating Greece an “amber” destination. This means that Brits returning to the UK will have to go through a 10-day period of self-isolation and two PCR tests. The news will surely cause more hoteliers to reconsider whether or not to go on. The situation is dire, to say the least.
Further confounding Greece’s tourism dillema, the fact Greece’s vaccination program is still lagging behind does nothing to bolster traveler confidence. According to Health Minister Vassilis Kikilias, everyone in Greece should have received at least one dose of vaccine by July. However, the program for the elderly and at-risk population is problematic.
So far, only 63% of citizens over the age of 85 and between 80-84, have been vaccinated with at least one dose. And 58% of people between 70-74 have been vaccinated while the figure for the age group 65-69 is only 40%. With schools back in physical session, and with lockdown measures being lifted, some experts fear another wave of ICU visits before things get better. And the credibility rub is there, in the ability or inability of Greek officials to protect the most vulnerable.
Finally, the news Deputy Minister of Tourism Sofia Zacharaki has been diagnosed positive for COVID-19 only amplifies the problem. Zacharaki told her social media followers her family wants their lives back, as she awaits her first dose of the vaccine. Who can blame foreign tourists for postponing their vacations to a place where the pandemic clearly still rages? My biggest concern now is what happens to Greeks if and when this season is a flop?
The 2008/2009 recession will seem like a gold strike if this happens. In 2020, Greece’s output fell by 10 percent. The national debt swelled to 200 percent of the country’s GDP. And the Prime Minister’s so-called “Greece 2.0” plan is based on billions from the EU COVID war chest. What is going to happen to this “second Greece” when thousands of hoteliers go broke because Greece’s tourism gamble flops?
Let’s just hope and pray the government can finally come through on its vaccination promises.