Greece has a mild, Mediterranean climate, and tourists enjoy comfortable weather most of the year. The political climate and current economic crisis, however, make many people wonder whether visiting Greece is a good idea.
Prospects for Greece as bankruptcy looms
The country faces huge debt repayments and has been paralyzed by riots, protests, and strikes for months. Many call Greece a burden to the Eurozone and the European financial system. Some even propose declaring bankruptcy, but this would result in unpaid debts, unemployment, social unrest, and a recession of instability. If that was to happen, there would be no petrol at the stations, medications at the pharmacies, and foods and goods in the stores. Many businesses would be forced to close.
Facing bankruptcy, Greek politicians are beginning to recognize that tourism is a major factor for economic recovery. In a speech to industry figures, George Papandreou said that tourism could be the driving engine of economic development. The country’s reputation will be strengthened if tourists associate Greece with tradition, history, myth, and Greek products (The Guardian).
The tourism industry is vital for Greece’s ailing economy. Greeks are waiting for tourists to come because this is their livelihood. Yet, the number of bookings is smaller. After the May 5th protests alone, about 27,000 bookings were cancelled, which was a major blow on the tourist industry (DW). German travel agencies have reported a considerable drop in bookings (about 30 percent), following claims that German tourists faced negative attitude and violence in Greece. According to tour operators, bookings from Austria and Italy have been stable while in France, they have dropped significantly (Spiegel Online).
The good news is that many airlines have dropped ticket prices in an attempt to fill planes. This is the time to find deals. Ticket prices are 30 percent lower than the last season. Travel packages and all-inclusive holidays are offered at lower prices because tickets are cheaper.
An increasing number of tourists opt for all-inclusive holidays in Greece this year. Travelzoo, for example, reported a considerable increase in holiday bookings. British tourists buy discounted packages, with prices down by up to 60 percent.
While there are plenty of discounted packages on offer, tourists are scared and worry about airport and border delays, riots, and strikes. More strikes are likely to follow, resulting in inconveniences for tourists. At the same time, strikes and protests are limited to Athens most of the time, and demonstrations are peaceful in their majority. The islands, small towns, and rural regions have not been affected.
Tourists are also concerned that some businesses (hotels and airlines in that number) may go under. In many cases, there are consumer protection mechanisms and insurance schemes, and tourists would be compensated. The best thing to do is to book everything through a travel agent, including flight tickets, car hire, accommodation or a package holiday. Thus money will be protected against company failures.
Some travelers worry about the prospect of a currency change. Even if this happens and Greece left the Euro, the European Central Bank has guaranteed the solvency of Greek banks. Tourists would not be prevented from withdrawing money and making financial transactions.
Professor for tourism Peter Voigt adds that travel agencies will benefit from a return to the drahma because a sharp depreciation of the currency will follow, along with declining costs.
Where to go
People looking forward to spending their holiday in Greece may wonder which cities are safe to visit. Generally, life goes on, shops and restaurants are open, tourists enjoy their holiday, and those who visited Greece recently say that the country is a safe place to go.
There has been an increase in crime over the last decade, and tourists are advised to avoid certain areas. Drug exchange and use happen in these areas, and they are close to the city centre. Demonstrations take place near the Parliament and not near any sites and attractions, except the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Syntagma Square, where demonstrations are held, attracts both troublemakers and peaceful demonstrators. According to different sources, between 10,000 and 50,000 demonstrators joined the mass protests against the debt crisis and economic situation in Greece. Demonstrations and protests are less frequent now, and the area around Syntagma Square can be easily avoided by travelers.
Halkidiki is safe and family-friendly, and the locals are nice and helpful. The centre of Hanioti is a beautiful square with many restaurants, bars, and shops around.
Note that Greeks from Thessaloniki come to Halkidiki for the weekend, and the highway is usually crowded. Expect traffic jams on Friday afternoon and Sunday night. Apart from heavy traffic, which can be an annoyance, Halkidiki offers superior sandy beaches, spectacular nature, good camping grounds, and plenty of bars and restaurants.
The area is not only a safe place, but it is where many foreigners buy a second home or a summer cottage. Until now, buying real estate was a privilege that only well-to-do British, Polish, and Dutch nationals could afford. An increasing number of Eastern Europeans are also looking for summer cottages and apartments for sale this season. Prices have fallen dramatically and an apartment close to the beach costs about 30,000 EUR.
Santorini is a safe place to spend your holiday, and the only drawback is high prices. You can expect to pay around $13 or €10 for a 5-minute taxi ride and $25 or €20 for a pair of flip-flops. In fact, it seems that the island forgot the financial crisis that hit the country. Unlike the rest of Greece, which sees pensions and wages dropping by 30 to 40 percent, Santorini is virtually unaffected, with tourists arriving by plane, ferry, or cruise ship every day. The island is a magnet for travelers from all over the world, featuring breath-taking sunsets and landscapes, volcanic beaches, cliffs, and whitewashed villages.
Other islands to visit include Rhodes, Mykonos, and Crete. The islands are a safe place to spend your holiday, and hotel owners reassure that they will not be affected by demonstrations and protests. Corfu is one of the popular destinations and at some hotels, room rates are down by 200 percent compared to the last season.
There are military sensitive areas near the Greek borders, and making notes/taking photographs is not allowed. Ask for permission if you want to photograph individuals.
In case a natural disaster occurs, it is important to follow the advice and recommendations of the local authorities. Many islands and mainland Greece are seismically active areas and while serious earthquake are uncommon, tremors occur.
Finally, you may want to check for travel alerts, which are issued in response to certain conditions and events. These include sporting events, elections, planned demonstrations and protests, etc. Travel alerts are usually generated for a short period, but the situation may change due to unexpected developments. At the moment, Greece is not on the list of countries which are considered unstable or dangerous.