Tourism Boom Greece Hopes to Break Tourism Record in 2017

The number of tourists visiting Greece is expected to break the 30-million mark this year – a boon for the country’s beleaguered economy and aided by Germany.
Tourism generated sales of around €13 billion in 2016 in Greece.

Germany and Greece have locked horns for years over how to handle the latter’s ballooning sovereign debt, with nasty epithets at times straining relations between both euro-zone nations. But when it comes to vacationing, Germans love Greece, and that's showing no signs of letting up.

According to the Greek tourism ministry, the number of German tourists visiting the country should jump by about 50 percent to up to 3 million in 2017. Overall, the ministry predicts the number of foreign holidaymakers will top last year’s all-time high of 27.5 million and break the 30-million mark.

The sun-drenched Mediterranean country expects it will benefit from several factors this year. Tourists are shunning other popular holiday destinations such as Turkey or Egypt, due to political uncertainty and increased travel risks. Furthermore, the situation within Greece has calmed down over the past two years. “Since 2015 we have had no more big strikes, and there are no terror attacks here, so people feel safe,” Dimitris Skalidis, who runs three hotels in the fishing town of Tolo in the Peloponnese, told German news agency DPA.

The Greek tourism industry is also affected by the comprehensive austerity measures demanded of Athens in the ongoing bailout talks.

Moreover, since the implementation of a refugee deal between the European Union and Turkey a year ago, an influx of refugees that made headlines in 2015 has declined sharply. On the particularly affected islands of Lesbos and Chios, where thousands of refugees are stranded, tourism is recovering more slowly. The island of Kos, however, recorded significant growth in bookings.

It’s not just Germans who are flocking to Greece’s many archeological hotspots and beaches. The country also expects over 900,000 visitors from the US in the 2017 holiday season, up from 778,600 last year. Revenues from American vacationers are set to rise to €728 million, or $796 million, George Trivizas, the chairman of the Hellenic-American Chamber of Tourism (HACT), told the Greek Reporter news site.

The additional cash is a boon for the struggling country, which suffered a deep recession from 2008 to 2013 as it battled a massive debt crisis and has mostly stagnated ever since. Tourism generated sales of around €13 billion in 2016 and that figure could jump by up to 50 percent, according to the tourism ministry.

Athens also expects a significant increase in the number of employees in that sector. Even if the majority of these are temporary or seasonal jobs, this would be at least temporary reprieve for the country with an unemployment rate of over 23 percent – still the highest in the EU.

Despite overall optimism for the season, the mood is not completely euphoric. The Greek tourism industry is also affected by a series of austerity measures and tax increases that international creditors are demanding of Athens in its ongoing bailout talks. The value-added tax (an EU sales tax) applicable to the hospitality sector rose from 13 to 24 percent. “To stay competitive, we don’t want to pass on these increases and other charges to customers,” Mr. Skalidis said.

 

Jean-Michel Hauteville is an editor at Handelsblatt Global in Berlin. To reach him: [email protected].