eEarlier this month, Elon Musk traveled to Mykonos, where he is said to have coughed up €7,000 to enjoy the fun of a golden-colored speedboat for a few hours. In neighboring Paros, Roger Federer raised the rays with his family away from the tennis court while Magic Johnson was excited about his “life-changing experience” at the Acropolis, thanking Nicole Kidman “Beautiful Greece” on Instagram.
Greece Have a good summer. Just when tourism officials think it can’t get better, it is. Athens prepares to receive one million visitors this week; Record numbers flock to the islands – jellyfish notwithstanding – and there is an abundance of famous vacationers.
This year the whole world is voting [for] Greece,” the country’s tourism minister, Vassilis Kikilias, told observer. “We have a war in Europe, a pandemic is still with us, an energy crisis, global uncertainty, inflation, tensions with Turkey and even jellyfish and yet they are still coming. Arrivals to popular islands increased by 20%.”
In the Greek capital, the situation can’t get much better either: after the lost years of the coronavirus, vacationers are back en masse, the streets of the city’s historic center and archaeological sites bustling.
The numbers already point to a tourist season that will surpass the country’s record of attracting 33.1 million visitors – more than three times the total population of Greece – in 2019.
For Costas Lavidas, who runs the kebab shop that his grandfather first made famous in the 1950s, vacationers are lifesavers. “What is certain is that without the tourists, I would not have the business that I have,” he said, placing sticks of marinated pork on the grill behind him while queues formed outside the restaurant off Syntagma Square in Athens. “Thank God they’re here!”
And it’s not just resort islands that have reported a spike in arrivals. The demand for cruises has also risen sharply, with more than 700 ships expected to dock at Greek ports in 2022. “There was a 280% increase in Thessaloniki port and a 130% increase in Piraeus,” Kikilias said.
Flights to Athens International Airport – among the few in Europe not affected by delays this summer – jumped 20%. The increase in the number of jobs is that if there is any problem at all, it is to find enough workers to employ the industry. In recent months, resorts and hotels have been recruiting Ukrainian refugees to help fill jobs.
As of March 2, there were nine direct flights from the US to Athens per day. “It has changed the rules of the game. About 500,000 Americans are expected to come by November. They are big spenders and with the dollar-to-euro rate they can spend more,” Kikilias added.
Greece generated 18.2 billion euros in tourism revenue in 2019 and just over 10 billion euros last year when Greece opened its borders in May. Speaking to CNN last Thursday, Greece’s prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, said he believed officials would be “pleasantly surprised” once they do the “calculations” at the end of the season.
“Greece is doing really well this summer,” he told CNN. “We have put a lot of effort into upgrading our tourism product, and making sure that all new investments in tourism are sustainable. This year we have seen the tourism season start very early and I expect it to end very late.”
In an economy that is heavily dependent on the sector – tourism accounts for 25% of Greece’s economic output and one in five jobs – the travel disruption that appears to have taken its toll after Covid has had the effect of being more than just a balm.
Far from the pink hues, the Greeks know they are waiting for a harsh winter. Inflation reached 11.5% – a 28-year high – this month, according to data released by Eurostat on Friday. In a country where the minimum wage is €713 per month and an estimated 43% of the workforce cannot afford time off, prices have skyrocketed.
“There are too many people in this country who work for less than 1,000 euros a month,” said Nikos Vitas, an economics academic who heads the influential IOBE think tank.
“Greek income is below average salaries in the European Union, not least because of the crisis years,” he added, referring to strict austerity that was the price of international bailouts to avoid the collapse of the debt-stricken country. As such, the sudden rise in prices for many families came as a shock.
“We are an economy that is still in recovery, an economy that has shrunk by 25%,” Vitas said. “Although it is now growing faster than others in Europe thanks in part to tourism, the energy crisis and war in Ukraine pose huge threats that cannot be ignored.”