Greece is braced for a bumper tourist season in 2013 with travellers already arriving and a long hot summer just around the corner. Turkey is the preferred destination of this corner of the Med now – it expects 30 million visitors while according to World Bank figures Greece had an estimated 15 million in 2010 – but Greece’s beauty and idyllic islands haven’t lost their magic despite the relentless economic troubles. And I’m so glad Greece doesn’t get 30 million tourists a year.
The latest stats show 27 per cent of the Greek population is unemployed, with 45 per cent of those jobless in the under 30 age group. There’s no doubt that it could feel #awkward enjoying your hard-earned vacation in a beautiful country where most of the populace is suffering to the core due to austerity measures and insanely arbitrary new taxes. The hardest hit are committing suicide, or dumpster diving for food, beggars are visible on the streets, the prolific angry graffiti is hard to miss, and empty shops mournfully line streets which used to be bustling centres of commerce.
For the past three years, the euro crisis has meant that any unrest in Greece made headlines around the world, and tourist numbers were down. But the economy is slowly on the mend. The hundreds of billions of euros in debt are being managed and paid back, and the strikes and central city violence have abated.
The head of the Athens-Attica Hotels Association recently said Greece may draw a record number of more than 17 million tourists this year as fear of a euro exit dissipates and a decrease in strikes helps the country’s image abroad. Alexandros Vassilikos says tourists are being drawn back to Athens. According to his comments to Bloomberg: In the last three years, 40 hotels in the wider Attica region, which includes Athens and neighbouring islands, have closed and hotel prices have dropped about 45 per cent on average.
I was in Greece last autumn and members of my family were there the year before. Despite the difficulties, we had a great time. As always. It’s not just the prices of hotels that have dropped in a bid to lure visitors. Even the price of coffee has come down – to help cash-strapped locals afford to go out to cafes. In 2009 I reluctantly paid 5 euros for coffee and last year I only paid 2 euros. At Rhodes airport I paid 1.7 euros for coffee, a cheese pie and a bottle of water! The Municipality of Athens also has a cheap eats scheme so Athenians and tourists can find more moderately priced meals. That was long overdue – the price of eating out in Greece had become unsustainable for many.
Greece hopes to attract as much as 11 billion euros in direct revenue from the tourist sector this year and the economy has long relied on tourism. And tourist season is traditionally strike season, I must warn you.. Political unrest is often stirred in the summer to squeeze the government where it’s already hurting. But if you’re on the islands, it’s unlikely you’ll notice anything is amiss. They’re still their tantalising selves, seducing travellers the way they have for thousands of years.
What tourists can expect in Greece 2013:
- Cheaper hotels
- Cheaper food and drinks
- Weather so reliable you can plan a BBQ three months in advance so leave your brolly in London and your ugg boots in Australia (where it’s winter)
- Possible transport strikes – ferry and train services in Greece ground to a halt on May Day and airline disruptions have occurred twice already this month
- The country’s main labor unions will continue protesting soaring unemployment which will mean protest rallies in the Athens centre and in other major cities
- Strikes by government employees may affect the opening times of archeological sites and museums
- The summer sales are excellent for snapping up bargains: leather bags and shoes are the best buys
- Tourist souvenirs are mostly reasonably priced
- Greeks excel at designing jewellery and museum reproductions – the variety is vast and so, increasingly, is the price range. I realize this might be random, but in the interest of smart shopping, I thought you’d like to know
- Haggling for bargains is fun. Just don’t be mean about it because a lot of people in Greece are doing it tough.
Tomorrow I’ll post a few gorgeous destinations in Greece which aren’t on the usual tourist trail. I’ll be back in Greece in September and can’t wait to get there!
And here’s the link: 3 great getaways in Greece