| Greek tourist industry thriving despite debt crisis and unrest
Despite encountering strikes and demonstrations, holidaymakers appear to be happy to be helping Greece – even if it means dodging teargas in Athens en route to the islands.
Last week, as protests intensified in the heart of the capital, tourists could be seen nonchalantly winding their way through Syntagma Square, site of the Greek parliament and the capital's poshest hotels, as riot police clashed with protesters venting over the prospect of yet more austerity. 'It all adds to the colour,' said Fabricio Vianello from Milan. 'When you're on holiday such things don't bother you as much.'
Officials are hoping the increase in the number of visitors will go some way to helping the country out of its financial hole.
Tourism accounts for one in five jobs and almost 18% of GDP, and the socialist government has given the sector special emphasis in the hope that it will help kickstart the battered Greek economy.
The attention has meant that in some ways Greece has become cheaper.
Last month, the administration reduced the price of ferry tickets by abolishing costly levies. The move followed the waiving of landing and taking-off fees at airports outside Athens, which has resulted in a reduction in the cost of air travel. A similar decision to bring down VAT from 11% to 6.5 % on tourist accommodation has ensured the country has become more competitive.
Hotels beyond the capital have been deluged with bookings as tourists have scrambled to snap up double rooms going for as little as ¤13 on the island of Corfu and ¤36 on Mykonos.
For the first time ever, reservations have been made for as late as November, according to Expedia, the world's largest online travel agency.
The lifting of visa restrictions for non-EU citizens from Turkey, China and India has also added to the influx. Russian visitors are expected to exceed 500,000 this year, an increase of 50% over 2010. 'You see a lot of boarded-up shops and businesses, which in some ways has made Greece less competitive and kept prices high,' says Elizabeth Howard, a British tourist. 'But it's been made up for by the reduction in travel costs.'
One of Greece's most desired destinations because of its association with movie stars such as Sophia Loren and Richard Burton, Hydra is in many ways a snapshot of the country at large. Thanks to a drop-off in construction, unemployment has suddenly surged, making the island ever more dependent on visitors.
Date: June 21, 2011
Author: Helena Smith in Hydra