Greece might be in the headlines for all the wrong reasons but tourism is, as I predicted in an earlier post, looking up. The Arab Spring has kept travellers away from the Middle East and they’re heading to the other side of the Mediterranean for summer.
Greece is in turmoil over the economy downgrading to junk status, the streets of central Athens were heaving with protesters on Wednesday and Prime Minister George Papandreou is struggling reach a workable solution for his government in the face of a decision on austerity measures, because without them, Greece is not going to get any more help out of its debt pit.
Greece’s economy is now the lowest rating in the world, behind Ecuador, Jamaica and Pakistan. The Greek drama has battered stock markets worldwide as well.
However tour company Thomas Cook reports an upswing of 13 per cent for bookings for Greece, compared to 2010, The Guardian says. Greece’s tourism industry is the world’s 21st biggest by value, generating $US12.7 billion of revenue last year and employing 298,000 people out of a total population of about 11 million. Portugal is just behind, with a $US10 billion industry employing 406,500 people.
Unrest in the Greek capital last year resulted in several deaths and hotel cancellations of up to 20 per cent.
The current crisis may result in some tourists steering clear of Athens, but on the ever popular Greek islands, you are far enough away from the shouting to enjoy your vacation unfettered. The beaches are still hot, the ancient sites retain their magic, the Ionian Sea and the Aegean are still sparkling, and the beers are on ice with the kalamari sizzling in the pan. The mood, by contrast, is thunderously dark for Greeks. The air traffic controllers and airlines refused to join the strikes because it’s peak tourist season. Greece has a tourist economy it needs desperately and it needs to keep running. Some tourism businesses are already on their knees due to poor seasons in 2009- 2010.
After I posted this story on June 16, about a dozen queries to this blog on Friday, June 17 asked if Athens is safe for tourists. Television news shows protest banners decorating Syntagma (Constitution) Square in the dead centre of the Greek capital, opposite Parliament. Some protesters have been camped there for weeks. But it also shows the nearby historic area of Plaka bustling with tourists, and ordinary Greeks strolling through Syntagma as usual. Wednesday’s large demonstration was largely peaceful, with a small group of protesters engaged in violence, and that’s the type of thing that grabs the headlines. Fellow blogger Global Greek World, who works in central Athens, says everything is back to normal.
No doubt there are worry lines around the eyes of Greeks welcoming travellers. Any nation facing the kind of long-term austerity measures that look inevitable, is likely to find it hard to plaster on a smile for visitors. Restaurateur Georgia Gerardis of Ammoyiali on the island of Rhodes (pictured left) says this season is critical for Greek tourism, and she’s working doubly hard. “The whole of Greece is affected. We can’t go through another summer tourist season like this past one…”
Disclosure of conflict of interest: I lived in Greece for many years and experienced turmoil on par with what is going on today. Greece has a strong history of political protest when the chips are down.
-Strikes usually affect opening hours of archaeological sites and transport other than airlines
-Wi-Fi is widely available so you can keep up to date with events that may affect travel around Greece
-Use foreign-based news reports if Greek journalists are striking, which may affect locally produced English-language news sources
-Try the BBC World Service, CNN International, or Twitter (!)
-More on Georgia Gerardis
-Useful Greek blog: Global Greek World