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Planning a holiday? Head to Greece

As Greece's debt crisis rumbles on with no clear end in sight, a drop in the number of visitors is likely to lead to some summer bargains this year, as Greeks mobilize support from both inside and outside the country to boost tourism.

travel Updated: Mar 20, 2012 12:36 IST
AFP

As Greece's debt crisis rumbles on with no clear end in sight, a drop in the number of visitors is likely to lead to some summer bargains this year, as Greeks mobilize support from both inside and outside the country to boost tourism.

Just weeks from the start of the summer season, figures suggest that tourism income will be down by five percent this year, as scenes of violence put people off vacations and popular hostility towards Germany -- one of Greece's top inbound markets -- grows.

In response, hoteliers have been forced to slash rates, which will be good news for those opting to visit the regions unaffected by the unrest, including most of the islands.

If you're looking for cheap hotspots, travel advice site TripAdvisor found that hotel prices in a number of popular destinations had fallen by as much as 20 percent, including Corfu, Zakynthos, Kos, Kefalonia, Crete and the capital city of Athens.

"While the Greek economy has experienced a traumatic year, the silver lining for tourism could be an increase in visitors due to the lower prices in many of its popular destinations," noted TripAdvisor's Emma Shaw.

In February, the average hotel rate in Corfu was just €79, TripAdvisor said, down from €99 a year earlier, while Zakynthos rooms cost an average of €76, down from €87 in February 2011.

Alongside cheaper hotel rooms, the crisis has also effectively highlighted much of Greece's rich cultural heritage to new visitors, not least because of widespread concern that cutbacks could impact the country's ancient monuments, temples and museums.

This week, Greece's leading archaeologists called for support in highlighting the danger of short-staffed facilities after several thefts from Greek museums this year, requesting that internet users post pictures of themselves alongside Greek statues and monuments abroad holding up pictures saying "Defend Greece's cultural heritage."

Their campaign is just one example of a broader growth in activism among Greeks who are determined to make sure that their country -- for decades a leading tourism destination -- is not forgotten.

This week, grassroots campaign body Up Greek Tourism announced that it had raised enough money from donors to rent an outdoor billboard in Times Square, the latest part of its social media campaign to promote visitation to the country.

Assuming the campaign is successful, visitors will find that despite the headlines, Greece is as open and as welcoming as ever, Greek journalist and Skyros holidays co-founder Yannis Andricopoulos told Relaxnews.

"Despite occasional noisy evenings in Athens, all tourists are well taken care of," he says.

"The trade unions, understanding that tourism is a life-line, have a policy not to disrupt the functions of the airports, which means that all flights to the country will be carried out without a hitch."

Fundamentally, visiting Greece this summer is about helping the country "to get through one of the most critical periods they've been in since the end of World War II," Andricopoulos says -- as well, of course, as having a great time.

"The country needs and deserves our support. Tourism provides a whopping 15 per cent of her total GDP and employs, directly or indirectly, 16.5 per cent of her total workforce. Islands like Skyros depend entirely on their tourist income -- in fact, they cannot survive without it."