A story this week on the Irish Times Richard Pine frames Greece’s reopening to tourism through the filtered light of skepticism. According to the article’s author, Greece traditional attractions may not sparkle as they once did on account of a pandemic that threatens to destroy the country’s tourism. While we cannot agree on any diminishing of Greece’s attractions, we can verify that officials and citizens here in Greece are anxious over an influx of tourists so soon after the COVID curve was flattened.
While the Irish Times story brings into view some valid questions as to Greece’s choices of countries that will be “allowed” to visit from June 15th onward, the report claims that “only Germany is of any real significance to the Greek economy.” It’s true the U.K., France, and the U.S. send significant numbers of traveler, and that those countries are so far banned, but the numbers Irish Times uses don’t reflect reality.
Pine missed the announcements the Greek Tourism Ministry has been working hard to promote tourism from the Baltics, the Balkans, Australia, and other markets. Greek officials have been heavy on the trail of “travel bubbles” and cooperation with countries like Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, not to mention Cyprus and Israel. Then again, the Irish Times is not hyperfocused on Greece, after all. What should concern us, are the author’s keen observations of a market that was ready for despair.
Given the fact that hotels and resorts, as well as airlines, will likely only operate at 50 percent capacity, Greece is not going to need nearly as many tourists as before. The news from Ireland has a quote from Grecotel CEO Maria Daskalantonaki saying, “Tourism is the crown jewel of the economy,” and that a 50 percent occupancy rate for a hotel is viable. And the Grecotel chief also offers this astute comment:
“Recreational tourism has been recognized as a right, and has become a consumer product for northern Europeans.”
And by rights, it’s middle-income Germans that Pine erroneously says “matter more” than the nearly 2 million travelers to Greece from Bulgaria. Or, in fact, Bulgarians, Turkish, and Macedonian travelers that come in even bigger droves from Germany. The Irish Times writer chimes in to illustrate sun-seeking will no longer be so economical.
On the politicization of the “tourism” question, Pine’s report gives us ample food for thought, as well. A lot of pressure is certainly being applied so that the EU and other stakeholders get what they want from Greece. This is a natural occurrence in geopolicy, investing, and trade negotiations always. But the real fear of Greek people is something that is not being talked about enough. I was just this morning with one of Greece’s foremost cardiologists, and the subject came up.
Without mentioning names, the heart doctor told me that before his hospital treated a COVID-19 patient from Germany earlier this spring, fears at the health facility over the coronavirus were almost non-existent. After the unfortunate death of the foreign professor, the health radar for Crete went off. Now, everybody you talk to on the street worries about tourists brining the dreaded “second wave” of the deadly virus to otherwise unscathed Greece and Crete.
Finally, Richard Pine does a superb job of bringing to the forefront one of my favorite subjects, the efficacy of the current Greek tourism product. Pine puts the notion of sustainable tourism to Greece in a nutshell with:
“Young people are more likely to say “Bye bye” than the Greek “Yia sas”, and even among older people “Thank you” is replacing the Greek word “Evcharisto”.”
For years now places like Crete have been sold as alternatives to Turkey, Egypt, and even Ibiza. Cheap deals and all-inclusive insanity have prevailed for Greek destinations that should be hosting premium meetings, experiences, adventure or wellness travel, and a host of others. Pine points out that sunseekers should not be the preferred guests in Greece.
For me, it’s better to have a villa, hotel, or resort half full of people willing to pay a good price, than it is to have a resort packed with people who probably should not even be on vacation for their lack of resources. This is a bit callous, I know, but it’s a reality that is coming into view now that the pandemic has rearranged economics. Travel to places like Greece should be expensive, not cheap. And Cretans should be teaching visitors what Filoxenia and Yammas mean, rather than learning how to be more “European” as members of a bloc. End of story.