So, here is my impression of the Greek reboot of tourism for 2020. After initially reporting the positive and hopeful potential of Athens’ move to let international tourists into the country, the writing is now on the wall. Greece should have stayed shut until the pandemic passed.
There was always a chance, many of us originally thought, that the Greek government’s moves to rescue 2020 might work. The “system” seemed to be in place, the organization looked sound, and everyone in Greece really was desperate to avoid another economic crash. But, when TUI started pushing hard to reopen the favored summer destination, we should have paid more attention. A strategic partnership struck between Athens and TUI back in late June made alarms go off for a lot of people.
Fast forward to several conversations I’ve had here in Heraklion, Crete’s capital. “The only reason the government opened up was because of TUI,” the bakery owner across the street comments a week ago when a return to strict COVID-19 measures came back to Crete. Now, masks are mandatory everywhere, inside or out, and we are one step away from another total lockdown. The sentiment on the street is that things are worse than everyone is being told too, and I cannot disagree.
Then there’s this, “the machine was full of selfish, Cov-idiots” – which is a story about a TUI flight carrying party animal Brit tourists back to the stormy British Isles to deliver a dose of coronavirus to unsuspecting everybody. A TUI flight is in the spotlight because the entire passenger and crew list are in quarantine because the travel company allegedly failed to do its job. Big surprise, hopped up “selfish, Cov-idiots,” took TUI flight BY62215 from Greece back to Wales, and the flight’s crew apparently did nothing to control the lunatics.
Meanwhile, TUI corporate does the big marshmallow routine on investors by bragging about how the season redux is already generating turnover. The comments by TUI CEO Fritz Joussen in this press release from August 13th are biting:
“Our integrated business model is proving its worth even in the crisis. The implementation of our hygiene and safety concepts and the relaunch of the business could be implemented in the flight, hotel, ship and destination segments from a single source. This has given our guests a high level of security. With the second government credit line, we are prepared if the pandemic again has a significant impact on tourism”.
TUI borrowed €3 billion from the German Federal Government and KfW, formerly KfW Bankengruppe, the German state-owned development bank to shore up liquidity. But experts say that money won’t last long. The German tour giant has been bleeding euros since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, and the desperate plays to reopen Spain, Portugal, Greece and other markets has surely cost the company more than the effort was worth. This says nothing for what the quick-fix may cost Greeks if the second wave of COVID-19 gets out of hand in the fall.
Portugal is about to go back on the UK’s quarantine list because of new cases of COVID-19, but five days ago it was announced that TUI would be expanding flights to Algarve hotspot Faro. So, what I am seeing is a huge conglomerate on the ropes and desperate to snag any euro, pound, or dollar it can get to stem the negative cashflow.
TUI is offering seven-night holidays to Albufeira at the 3T Casa Mitchell Apartments, flights, and accommodations included from £456 per person when booked online. For me, to be honest, I cannot help but wonder if such offers are even ethical in the current catastrophic climate? And amid all this desperation, leading Greek hoteliers and their relevant associations are in backpedaling mode reversing course on the 2020 rescue.
Greek Tourism Confederation (SETE) President Yiannis Retsos, and Hellenic Federation of Hoteliers (POX) President Grigoris Tasios were both enthusiastic about salvaging 2020 at the onset of the government’s campaigning. These organization were instrumental in the design and tone of PR and marketing for attracting tourists mid-COVID.
Now their outlooks take on a pleading for funding tone, which does not play out right since these leaders own hotels. Sorry, but this has to be noted. If TUI cared less for the health and wellbeing of Greeks, how can we ignore the narrow focus of Greek entrepreneurs? And believe me, I was defending these people when Syriza was attacking with sour grapes at the onset of the tourism redux. But in fairness, I was optimistic too, many people were.
Meanwhile, in Athens officials are blaming new COVID-19 cases on citizens and not travelers. Ironically, in Berlin young there is widespread protesting of COVID-19 measures by COVID deniers, which seems to accentuate the root of the problem for Greece and other nations. The overall corporate take on the coronavirus ends up being a mirror of the denial trend. Take US President Donald Trump’s stance, multiply that, and then spread it as messaging across Europe and the world. What I mean is this.
The Athens authorities opening up to tourists sends a message that everything is under control, which in turn causes citizens to be less cautious, which exacerbates and already delicate and dangerous situation. The two dimensional thinking of these leaders leave so much to be desired. No mask on Trump = nobody needs a mask for some. Dealing with TUI to bring half of the previous horde to Greece sends a similar message. And now the provincial capitals are almost back in lockdown.
At the end of the day, it’s not government’s or the people’s job to rescue companies like TUI. If the German tour giant goes bust, another entity or twenty will fill the void in the same way TUI and others filled the Thomas Cook vacuum. For my part, I wish I had erred on the side of caution in my editorials rather than leaning on a prayer. I just hope the lesson reaches beyond my keyboard.
Feature image: Courtesy 101 Holidays