Greece is a country with a big heart, lapped by the waves of the Mediterranean, Aegean and Ionian seas. This is a place defined by its sea-salt location, peppered with stunning islands, jaw-dropping beaches and hideaway rocky coves. Add masses of ancient ruins and superlative fresh food to the mix, and it’s no surprise that travellers have flocked here since time immemorial. Having weathered the coronavirus pandemic better than many expected, visitors are already turning their heads to Greece again. We spoke to the Secretary General of the Greek National Tourist Office, Dimitris Fragakis, to find out more about how the nation has coped with Covid-19, and what travel might look like in the summer season and beyond.
Q: Greece responded quickly to the coronavirus threat, taking tough and early action. The death rate in Greece has therefore been incredibly low (175 deaths to date). Do you feel proud of how the country and its citizens responded to the crisis? What’s the national mood like at the moment?
A: I do feel extremely proud of the way that we responded to this pandemic. With the government’s swift response in implementing the safety measures and the lockdown – and the Greek people abiding to those restrictions – we managed to contain the case numbers and the death toll has been really low. People in Greece are still following the governmental advice, while steadily adjusting to their daily routines as they were before the quarantine.
Q: The Greek economy and its citizens are heavily reliant on the tourist industry, which employs 1 in 5 Greeks. How has the country sought to navigate the balance between welcoming visitors back while simultaneously keeping people safe?
A: As most things, this transition needs to happen in a balanced way and with the right priorities. It is of utmost importance to guarantee people's safety via specified rules and hygiene protocols; subsequently to allow holidaymakers to enjoy the beauties of Greece while protecting them as efficiently as our citizens. The goal is to be safe without succumbing to fear, and this can be achieved by following the health protocols that have been carefully developed for the tourism businesses, as well as the guidelines for the citizens. At the same time, we have designed a communication plan for all the above that starts on the spot from the businesses (e.g. tour operators) and continues in more innovative ways such as specialized apps. We want people to know that Greece is a country able to guarantee safe holidays.
Q: To help the travel industry rebound, the government has reduced VAT on transport. What other incentives and discounts could we see in order to encourage visitors to return to Greek shores?
A: Indeed, the Greek Government has announced a series of measures to support tourism businesses and incentivize visitors. These will result in lower prices for our visitors, adding to the already value-for-money tourism product. There are also certain incentives to support domestic tourism such as corporate holiday travel vouchers and reinforcement of the Greek social tourism holiday programme, “Tourism for All”.
Q: Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has stated that the country will reopen to tourists in June, with international flights being introduced from July. What new measures and safety regulations can travellers expect? From which countries will visitors initially be allowed? Will there be new airport regulations (test on arrival, quarantine period, etc.)
A: The plan for international flights as announced by the Prime Minister and the Minister for Tourism is as follows:
On top of the safety measures during the flights, there will be sample tests available on arrival, while the precautionary measures continue after that point, too. As mentioned above, we have carefully designed certain protocols; indicatively, there are provisions that hotels (with over fifty beds) will have a doctor on call, access to Covid-19 testing (should someone feel sick), while emergency transfer to the nearest health facility will also be available. There will be also reinforcement of health facilities all over Greece, and the islands.
Q: Organized beaches have already opened in Greece, with a raft of new safety measures – including specified distances between parasols and visitor quotas. Are these new rules being respected? Is it working?
A: Exactly, there is a series of measures that define the operations of the organized beaches, including the distances between parasols and visitors quotas, while similar measures are extended to other types of public areas, as well as restaurants and more. For the implementation of these protocols there are regular inspections in place. We are very happy that these rules are respected, which shows both organizational efficiency, and high level of personal and social responsibility.
Q: What are your predictions for the travel industry in Greece for the rest of the summer, year and into 2021?
A: In these unprecedented times the tourism industry is showing adaptability and perseverance. We are optimistic that Greece will claim a large share of the substantially smaller tourism pie in the summer of 2020, and we expect that 2021 will be extremely strong for our country. We believe that it will be a year of strong recovery for the Greek tourism and the Greek economy in general, and we are preparing for this.
Q: What lessons will Greece take forwards from Covid-19? How can we work towards a brighter future?
A: Greece took a remarkable stance against the pandemic by implementing timely and strict measures. Greek people followed the advice of the experts with discipline and solidarity and proved that human life is of the greatest value. Our country, in the midst of a pandemic, has strengthened its Health System and protected the vulnerable, while the State has encouraged cooperation with the private sector in all areas of the economy, especially the tourism one. With synergies, faith, hard work, innovation and vision, the future seems auspicious.
Top image: Panorama of Hydra, Saronics © leoks/Shutterstock