Lockdown protests, public mistrust of officials, mass uncertainty, all this can be attributed to the knee jerk policies of leaders from Albania to Zambia. In Greece, a second lockdown pushes an already squeezed population to the brink. The “narrative” has to stop. Here’s some examples why.
Greek Tourism Confederation (SETE) President Yiannis Retsos was quoted by GTP saying Greece’s tourism industry may “possibly” recover from the effects of the pandemic in the second half of 2021. Of course, Earth may also be struck by an unseen asteroid by then, rending all the expert predictions on COVID recovery mute. Today, however, before the next round of brilliant prognostications, I’d like to recall some of the rhetoric and narrative that led up to this catastrophic end to 2020.
This situation we find ourselves in is what happens when an industry or a society at large puts businessmen in charge of everything from ditch digging to crystal ball readings. Retsos, who is CEO and Co-Owner of Electra Hotels & Resorts, can never get past being a hotelier. He cannot even be blamed for this. The system is to blame, perhaps, but all we can be sure of is that every prediction, every analysis, or any story you read about such leaders ends up being a personal interest fairytale.
The Black & White
Back in May, Retsos was singing the praises of Greece’s reopening to tourists and humming a familiar VAT tune as well. To be clear here, I was supportive too, in the hopes that the precautions would be sufficient to protect us. But I was naive, and so were many others. The people in charge, the people in power, the ones with the ability to affect positive change, their fault is not nativity in my opinion.
This Kethimerini story proves his the SETE chief’s position and insinuates what his advice must have been to tourism leaders. VAT measures were at the forefront for SETE as the first lockdown came to an end, and VAT is at the forefront of Retsos language as the second lockdown looms. In point of fact, the SETE executive is only regurgitating exactly what he said back in May, in the latest Greece travel industry séance. Yes, I think these people are snake-oil salesmen, more or less. But big-time hotel owners are not the only tourism potion vendors. If you Google the names of any of the decisionmakers and then filter by date, you can find the breadcrumbs of a dark fairytale made of PR fluff.
Next, we have Retsos, Prime Minister Mitsotakis, and Tourism Minister Theoharis putting their heads together with German tour giant TUI to come up with a so-called strategic partnership to ferry German tourists to Greece once the borders opened up. During June, Retsos and other key Greek stakeholders slung out the buzz terms like sustainability, in order to get to the point of matters and something called the Next Generation EU recovery package. This, according to Retsos, would, in his words:
“…be the driving force for the restart of the Greek economy and for the development of a new, long-term and efficient growth model for the country.”
I won’t delve into this fund and what it’s truly meant for, but Christine Lagarde, President of the European Central Bank, TUI, and a lot of German bankers and investors play a big role in leveraging policy with loans and grants. At the receiving end of this money, vested interests tailor their rhetoric and strategies in order to receive funding. This report takes issue with how individual EU states may disperse much-needed pandemic crisis funds.
Basically, the Lagarde plan is to get EU bloc nations to pool their debt in order to solidify the bloc under central control. The bankers could really care less about how states spend the money. This is no big secret, the average cab driver in Heraklion knows it. Lagarde is leading a banker initiative to encourage EU nations like Greece to borrow themselves back into a crisis. But this is a much deeper subject.
Selling Seats, Berths, and Rooms
Let’s lay off SETE’s boss in the micro-scheme, and Lagarde’s role in the macro-scheme, to show more fiscal and strategic idiocy in play as we enter Lockdown II. Greece’s Tourism Minister Harry Theoharis has had the toughest job in Europe in many ways. On the one hand, Theoharis had to sell Greece as the safest destination in the world when the borders reopened. And on the other hand, he had to downplay the negative effects of increased COVID-19 cases, which were inevitable. In May, just before flights to Greece resumed, Theoharis announced the plan:
“‘Restart Tourism’ is a comprehensive, coherent and detailed plan to restore Greek tourism to function safely and efficiently for the national economy.”
June 2nd, Kathimerini reported Theoharis’ welcome to “all tourists” when the country reopened. He mentioned a “balance” between restrictions and freedoms, which we now know were part of the cause of the virus resurgence. The “balance” he referred to betrayed the Mitsotakis administration’s plan, to play it as it goes instead of making sure the virus was not a threat. The graphic below from Greek researchers Alkaios Sakellaris, Konstantina Miteloudi, Dimitris Sakellaris, and Nikolaos Tampouratzis gives us a look at how the first lockdown affected cases, and where the summer reboot seems to have had a booster affect on the pandemic in Greece. From mid-July to late August, cases basically began doubling.
In July Theoharis announced ports opening to cruise ships, he personally welcomed TUI’s first flight to Kos, he defended the reopening and began minimizing COVID-19 cases brought by tourists, and he spoke at Parliament saying:
“During this extremely difficult situation, Greece is laying the foundations for tourism in the coming years, seeking to maximize the benefits for the future.”
The ministry began a fairly massive PR and marketing campaign to sell Greece to tourists around the world. At that moment there were 4,336 case in all of Greece. Back then the tourism ministry and every Greek authority said the primary objective was safety. Most people do not buy the “coincidence” that the second wave began arriving at the instant airplanes began landing from outside Greece. I will spare the reader by not itemizing the bullshit these politicians disseminated. “Greece From Home”, “Endless Greek Summer”, and “Destination Greece Health First” were some of the initiatives of Theoharis to reboot Greek tourism at all costs. I believe Lockdown II would never have been necessary had these officials worked a plan of domestic tourism only.
July 19 GTP reported that Theoharis and his colleagues had COVID-19 well under control. Theoharis, speaking on Greek state broadcaster ERT 1, said “Greece had not lost control of the situation, unlike some of its competitor countries.” He also assured TV viewers that the government was constantly monitoring the situation and that there were many lines of defense to protect the population. Theoharis was not the only official who was apparently misleading the public. He is, however, the one who took his job description most seriously I think. If a tourism minister is only supposed to sell travel billets, then Theoharis deserves a raise.
On Crisis Mismanagement
Greece’s Deputy Minister for Civil Protection and Crisis Management, Nikos Hardalias, was quoted ruling out the possibility of Greece going under a second lockdown, touting local measures as sufficient to quell any upwelling of infections. Health Minister Vassilis Kikilias seemed to be the only voice of reason back then, in his cautioning that the second wave must be avoided no matter what. Unfortunately, we know the result of these strategies now. I think the problems we now face are because key officials in Greece and elsewhere prioritized the economic crisis above the health catastrophe taking shape now.
In August news with comments from Harry Theoharis was more sparse. The tourism minister proclaimed virus cases from outsiders were low, and in the same breath expressed concerns about inbound tourist numbers. This quote is from GTP is in the same story the tourism minister said Greece had incoming cases under control:
“Our effort seems to be paying off. It is very important that TUI announced that it will add 40,000 new passenger seats to our country for summer 2020. Other airlines are doing the same.”
Like I asserted earlier on, I do not envy Harry Theoharis the job of selling more seats and saving aging Greeks from certain death simultaneously. But there it is. No one can “unpost” all the promotional idiocy the Greeks have sent to media outlets worldwide. The only people looking more foolish than the Trump administration, are the people who had the pandemic under control only to let it kick their asses later on. Sorry for the plain words, but this is the reality. June 15th Greece had 3,134 COVID-19 cases, by August 5th the number had doubled, and by September 15th
Blue line is daily new COVID-related deaths in Greece. Clearly, the trend is rising. Yesterday, the country experienced an unprecedented spike. Together with the continuing rise in ICU admissions, this is one of the main reasons leading to the new lockdown. pic.twitter.com/gfYuYHrIWH— The Greek Analyst (@GreekAnalyst) November 5, 2020
To make matters even worse, Harry Theoharis simply took his job far too seriously when he ridiculed the UK for reinstituting quarantine measures in September. The madness did not end with Greece questioning other nations trying to protect their people, later in September Theoharis took kudos from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Morocco for leading a “successful reopening” of Greece tourism. Then he created press about how his efforts increased Greece’s brand. Then he reiterated the new cases were not from tourism. Then he met with TUI’s Ebel in a mutual gratification ceremony to brag about Greece being the tour giant’s best market. They both expressed their “optimism” about tourist demand for 2021.
The Fumblefest Revealed
The whole charade is now unraveling. Reboot tourism started to fray at the edges about the time TUI was chastized for not enforcing face mask rules on at least one flight. And with a lockdown ready to go in place as of Saturday, Theoharis offered this only days ago:
“Βig travel giants such as TUI, DER, JET2, and FTI are extending their programs until late November for the first time and possibly into December, depending on the development of the health situation.”
As of October 26th, the top tourism official in Greece and most of the top decision-makers in the industry seem oblivious to the danger, the catastrophe, and the looming reality that COVID-19 is. They only really seem to have been worried about the money, which is what bean counters always end up doing. If economics is not to blame, then it seems like they are drugged, struck dumb, or they’re from another world, from my perspective. They are still bragging about their effectiveness, their genius moves to reopen Greece and a future that no one on this world can know. It seems like Donald Trump has been cloned and distributed to every corner of the world. Ludicrous, if you are in my position.
In the last two days Greece has recorded more cases of COVID-19 than the total number recorded up until the country was reopened to tourists. Hoteliers are thinking about hotels, politicians are thinking about what politicians are always thinking about, and the people are caught in the middle of a catastrophe. The only good news is that with a renewed lockdown, and with public adherence, the coronavirus curve for Greece should follow the same declining path it too after the first lockdown.