Greece joins Mediterranean race to win back tourists

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Greece launched its tourism season Friday amid a competitive scramble across the Mediterranean to lure vacationers emerging from lockdowns.

“We’re all vaccinated, the tables are outside and spread out, with hand sanitizers on each one. We’re ready. Now we wait,” Kapri, owner of the Naxos beachside restaurant ‘Gorgona’, said. During a six-month lockdown, Gorgona closed for the first time in its 50-year history.

The European Union has yet to roll out its cellphone-friendly travel pass system. But southern member-states, driven deeper into debt by the pandemic and highly dependent on tourism revenues, are not waiting.

A worker places chairs at a tavern in Plaka beach, on the Aegean island of Naxos, Greece, Wednesday, May 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Croatia has already reopened, as has Cyprus, joined Friday by Greece where residents were allowed to leave home without an electronic permit for the first time in six months.

Last year, the number of visitors to Greece plummeted by 78.2% to 7.4 million — from a record 34 million in 2019 — according to official data, with a corresponding drop in tourism revenues.

Greece is hoping to claw back half the 2019 visitor level. It’s vowed to finish vaccinating its entire island population over the next six weeks and will even waive test requirements for tourists who have received vaccines made in Russia and China that are not approved for use domestically.

A company of tourists pose for a photograph as the sun sets in Chora, on the Aegean island of Naxos, Greece, Thursday, May 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Other Mediterranean countries are also looking for an edge. Malta is promising visitors vouchers to go diving and cash rebates to high-end hotel customers.

In Turkey, visitors from abroad have been exempt from stay-at-home orders applying to Turks, thus enjoying an empty Istanbul, and little-populated beach resorts. Starting Monday, travellers from China, Britain, Australia, and 13 other countries will be allowed in without even having to present a negative COVID-19 test.

Portugal is the only southern European country to so far make Britain’s so-called Green List of quarantine-free destinations.

In neighboring Spain, Trade and Tourism Minister Reyes Maroto said her government was in “constant” consultations with Britain to try to have its travel status upgraded. Some 18 million U.K. holidaymakers traveled to Spain in 2019.

Italy is expected to drop a five-day quarantine requirement for travelers from the EU, Britain and Israel this weekend, but many in the hospitality industry are still bracing for another tough year.

“I think (tourism) is going to increase but very slowly. For this year we have to accept whatever comes,” said Elisabetta Menardi, manager of the Ca’ Foscolo apartment hotel in Venice.

Sourced By: AP News

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