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Greece launches tourism season, eyes pandemic recovery


People visit the Athens Acropolis Museum during the first day of the opening of the museums on May 14, 2021. – Greece kickstarts its tourism season on May 14, 2021, with both the government and travel operators hoping the lure of sun, sand and sea will bring a sorely needed revenue boost after last year’s miserable holiday season. (Photo by Aris MESSINIS / AFP)

Standing before the breathtaking beauty of the Balos lagoon in Crete on Friday, three German tourists couldn’t believe their luck at being there.


“We searched for a location to go for our first holiday post-Covid and we … spontaneously decided to come here,” said Anne Marie Buhrer, 25, from Munich. “We can’t believe how beautiful it is here.”

The trio were among some of the first foreign travellers returning to Greece after the country kickstarted its tourism season on Friday, hoping the lure of sun, sand and sea will bring a sorely needed revenue boost after last year’s miserable holiday season.

Greece is vying with Europe’s other tourism hotspots to woo back visitors.

France and Spain launched tourism campaigns this week while Italy said Friday it was scrapping a quarantine requirement for visitors from the EU, Britain and Israel who test negative for the coronavirus.

“We are raising anchor,” Greek Tourism Minister Harry Theoharis declared as he launched the holiday season Thursday evening from the ancient Greek temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion, near Athens.

“We leave behind the dark clouds of fear and insecurity,” he added, saying that foreign tourists were eager to return to the country.

The announcement couldn’t come soon enough for restaurateurs and cafe owners eagerly preparing for patrons to come back after suffering so long under coronavirus lockdown measures.

“We hope this will be a good season because the winter was difficult for all of us, employers, employees and the tourist sector,” said Alexandros Koukourakis as he set up tables and chairs at his restaurant near the old town of Chania, on the island of Crete.


“We hope people will chose us as a country and as an island,” he added. “It is in our hands not to close again.”

According to government regulations announced on Wednesday, anyone travelling to Greek islands by sea or air must show a vaccination certificate or a negative Covid-19 test result.

Europe’s leading tour operator TUI has scheduled 120 flights to Greece until the end of May, with the first six touching down on Friday and another 15 set for Saturday.

Some 40 international incoming flights are expected in 14 regional Greek airports on Friday and another 110 on Saturday.

Most islands have less extensive health facilities than the mainland, and an initiative to vaccinate local populations is underway.

Nationwide, nearly four million vaccinations have already been carried out in the country of 10.8 million.

In an early setback, the UK put Greece on its amber travel list, meaning that returning Britons face at least five days in quarantine.

With several restrictions still in place for travellers throughout Europe, Greek hoteliers expect the tourism sector to pick up from late June or early July, alongside stronger vaccination figures.

Hotel business slow
“We have no reservations at the moment and only 15 to 20 percent of the hotels will be operating this Friday, while the rest will open gradually until the end of June,” said Grigoris Tasios, president of the Greek federation of hoteliers.

The pandemic deeply affected the Greek economy, heavily reliant on the tourism sector which accounts for more than 20 percent of GDP.

Tourism revenue plunged to 4.28 billion euros ($5.0 billion) in 2020 from 18 billion euros in 2019, while tourist arrivals fell 76.5 percent to just 7.4 million, according to the Greek Tourism Confederation Institute.

The Greek government, as well as other tourism-dependent southern EU countries, want Brussels to quickly agree on a travel certificate which would allow people who have been vaccinated, have a negative test or antibodies, to move without quarantine.


The opening of the tourism sector comes as Greeks will also be allowed to go about freely within the country for the first time since November.

“Last year everything was a blur, now we are entering a different tourist season,” said George Segredos, a beach bar owner on Kos island.

“We are aiming to get around half of 2019 revenues,” he told AFP.

But not all tourist destinations will be accessible.

The Greek island of Kalymnos remains in strict lockdown owing to scores of recent infections, highlighting how fragile and fluid the situation remains.

“We were preparing to open in early May, getting supplies and hiring personnel and suddenly we are in deep red,” said Michalis Petridis, owner of a beach and night bar in Kalymnos.

“This constant change of rules is damaging us.”


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