Greece's tourism industry is booming after pandemic slump

Published on Aug 20, 2022 09:19 AM IST

Greece is expecting more visitors than in 2019 — the year before the coronavirus pandemic paralysed the world.

Greece's tourism industry is still vital to the country's economy(Kaki Bali/DW )
Greece's tourism industry is still vital to the country's economy(Kaki Bali/DW )
By | Posted by Tapatrisha Das

Greece is expecting a record-breaking tourist season with more visitors than in 2019, the year before the coronavirus pandemic paralysed the world — despite Russia's war in Ukraine, the energy crisis and high inflation.

For a long time, Greece hasn't seen so much music, so much dancing, so much eating and drinking under bright summer skies: On August 14 and 15, residents on the Greek islands could again celebrate the traditional Assumption Day festival. And countless tourists joined them for those celebrations.

Twelve years after financial crisis hitand two years of the coronavirus pandemic and, thus far, six months of the war in Ukraine people in Greece are craving some carefree days — before, possibly, having to face harsh realities again. During the third week of August, most Greeks are on vacation, trying to take some time out from the spyware scandal, refugee and energy crises, and high inflation, which stood at 11.6% in July 2022.

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At the same time, hopes are high in Greece that the tourist season will continue to be the success it has been up to now. The country is still highly dependent on the travel industry: in a good year, it accounts for more than 20% of the country's GDP. And 2022 appears to be turning into one of those good years.

Tourism Minister Vassilis Kikilias estimates that there will be even more visitors than in the record year of 2019. During the pre-pandemic year, Greece counted 33 million holidaymakers. Revenues generated from tourism totaled €18.2 billion ($18.3 billion) in 2019; this year, the Bank of Greece forecasts revenues of some €20 billion.

One million arrivals per week

The figures, so far, look promising: since the beginning of August, nearly one million tourists have arrived by plane in Greece every week, according to Kikilias. In addition, hundreds of thousands travel by car to Chalkidiki or Pieria in the north of the country, most of them from western Balkan countries.

July 2022 saw similar figures, and June was an exceptionally good month as well, with Greece counting a total of 3.5 million visitors from abroad.

"If this goes on until mid-September, we'll survive the next winter," said Panayiotis, the owner of a large beach bar on the island of Naxos. In July 2022, the biggest of the Cyclades islands hosted almost as many visitors as during the record year of 2019.

The figures for August are, up to now, even higher than they were three years ago. Currently, it's neither easy nor cheap to find a bed there, especially in tourist hot spots such as Mykonos, Santorini, Korfu, Kos or Rhodes. In 2022, those who travel last minute and who didn't book in advance will, even at the beginning of September, have to be lucky and will need deep pockets if they want to find accomodation on those islands.

Hidden treasures at the Athens Riviera

Juan and his girlfriend Jasmina from Spain don't regret traveling last minute. When they couldn't manage to secure a room on Santorini in mid-August, they stayed in Athens and discovered a different beach on the Athens Riviera every day.

"It's wonderful and very comfortable in the city. We take the tram to get to the beaches, the sea is great, nicely warm and clear, and if you don't want you don't even have to rent an expensive beach umbrella," sun-tanned Jasmina says, while Juan raved about the pubs in the Greek capital.

In August, Athens is most enjoyable during the evening hours. Many of the residents have left the metropolis for their summer residences. As a result, there are few traffic jams, little noise (at least by Athens' standards) and enough vacant seats in pubs, taverns and roof gardens with a view of the Acropolis.

Party atmosphere and cultural offers

On many Greek islands, however, the beaches are crowded, sometimes overflowing, just like the pubs and taverns, which is ideal for those wanting to party. Those who prefer a bit of peace and quiet will find a large selection as well, for instance on less frequented islands or in the mountains on the mainland.

In addition, the summer of 2022 has a lot to offer in the way of culture. After two years of an enforced hiatus due to the pandemic, numerous concerts are being held and, every weekend, tragedies, comedies and modern plays are performed in the antique theaters of Epidaurus, Filippoi, Dion, Dodoni, Samothraki and the many open theaters across Greece.

The many public festivals across the country provide a chance to hit the dancefloor again.

Boris Johnson and the British

Not even the war in Ukraine could dampen the vacation mood. Even the absence of tourists from Russia, who used to be essential for the Chalkidiki and Crete regions, was counterbalanced by visitors from other countries.

Until mid-August 2022, the majority of Greece vacationers hailed from the UK, such as Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Nearly as many people arrived from Germany, followed by tourists from Italy, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, and Poland.

Bank of Greece data also shows that June 2022 saw an increase of some 50% in visitors from the US, compared to 2019, which is excellent news for the tourism industry as Americans spend more money on average than tourists from other countries.

Airports without chaos, hotels without staff

This summer, two facts related to tourism in Greece are striking. Firstly, chaos did not rule at the country's airports. But secondly, hotels and restaurants were unable to recruit sufficient staff, despite an overall unemployment rate of more than 12%.

INSETE, the research body of the Greek Tourism Confederation, worked out that one in five vacancies could not be filled, primarily because working conditions and sleeping accommodation for potential employees are often dire.

In the meantime, many Greeks prefer to work in the tourism industry abroad, even including exotic places like Iceland, because of better working conditions and better salaries.

The money they make will even get them through the next winter — when there are no jobs available in the tourism industry.

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