To Visit or Stay Away: The Greece Question
Tourism in Greece hasn’t fared at all badly this past year or two. Indeed, in 2011 visitor numbers were very buoyant as travelers who might otherwise have taken vacations in Egypt or Tunisia opted instead for Greece. Greece was a key beneficiary of the Arab Spring.
Germany shuns Greece
Yet over the past year, Greek hotel prices have generally drifted down. A key driver here has been the growing German antipathy to all things Greek. News reports last weekend suggest that German bookings for Greek destinations are down well over a third on this time last year.
The German voter has yet to fully appreciate that Germany has itself been one of the primary architects of the Greek tragedy. To many observers across Europe, the high-principled Teutonic zeal with which many ordinary Germans now seek to punish Greece is very unbecoming.
The absence of Germans this year creates a big dent in the Greek tourism market, but we should remember that the growing Russian affection for Greece will certainly help plug that gap. Tourism makes up about one fifth of Greece’s GDP, but that broad figure masks substantial regional variations. The islands are of course more conspicuously affected than the mainland by any dip in the tourist trade.
Incentive planners don’t like uncertainty, so corporate junkets to Greece for the 2012 season are well down. But what does all this mean for the average punter?
Greece deserves a visit
Our view is that 2012 is most definitely a year when Greece deserves a look. The mid-June elections are likely to produce a government (though it may not be one that is willing to dance to Germany’s tune). Greeks are famously tolerant and traditionally give any incoming government a decent period of grace. All the prospects are that the upcoming peak tourism season will be peaceful.
Yes, Greece may slip quietly out of the euro, but we must recall that the majority of Greeks still seem keen to remain members of Europe’s premier currency. If you happen to be on vacation in Greece on the day (if it ever comes) when Greece leaves the euro, don’t immediately invest all your assets in the New Drachma. Just go back to the beach and remember that Greek hospitality is among the best in Europe. Greek smiles don’t easily fade. So all the more reason why one of Europe’s liveliest and most enriching countries should not be shunned just because Greece is having a tough time.
The islands may well be a better bet for this summer than overheated Athens. Fortunately, a new edition of Frewin Poffley’s book Greek Island Hopping has just been published. This excellent guide will help you on your way.