Author and Greece aficionado, Jennifer Barclay, who resides in Greece, explains how recent media coverage is hurting the country but why it’s still business as usual in the land of Gods and goats.
I’ve been living on the little Greek island of Tilos for a year, very remote from the rat race. Tilos has a population of just 400 people, so on my lunchtime walks I see goats, eagles and fields of wild flowers. My rented house has a view of sparkling sea, and the ruined mountaintop castle above a village inhabited since pre-history. Greece is, as always, an amazingly beautiful country.
Yet what a difficult year Greece has had. The economic crisis and uncertainty over the country’s ability to repay its loans and remain in the EU culminated in severe service cutbacks and layoffs, businesses closing and salaries unpaid. Though the anti-government protests in Athens felt very far away from my little island, many of my neighbours have seen their income cut by over a third by the austerity measures, and qualified young people despair of finding work.
When summer comes, we hope it will be a busy season as usual. David from Tilos Travel says tourism has been steady for the last five years. People who love the island keep coming back – many have been coming here for 20 years, for the beaches and the walking but most of all because of the warm welcome they receive – and business as usual is exactly what is needed by local people and their family businesses.
Is it safe to visit England after the riots in Croydon? Of course. The protests in central Athens happened in a very small area outside the parliament buildings and tourists were warned to stay clear.
Greece has always been a very safe country to visit, and on many of the islands, people don’t lock their doors. Greek culture is family-oriented and relaxed.
‘Greece is as safe as the rest of Europe; the only problems we have had are political, but we believe everything will be OK.’ says Theodore Consolas, owner of the Fivos budget hotel in the Monastiraki district of central Athens.
Like the UK, Spain and elsewhere in Europe (and the world), tourists can be affected by transport strikes, which are publicised in advance. Industrial action can affect taxis, ferries, airports and even some archaeological sites. If you are unlucky enough to be affected, it’s best to have a flexible attitude and see if you can rearrange your travel plans for a day or two. The Greek people are, as always, proud to welcome visitors and help tourists to have a good holiday by advising them on how to avoid any problems.
Although the local people are worried about their economic troubles, there has been no trouble on the islands and tourist resorts.
‘The international media coverage of the riots has been detrimental to the overall reputation of Greece. The tourism industry is definitely already being affected with lower booking figures.’ say Spirit of the Knights, a boutique hotel in Rhodes town.
A recent report in the Kathemerini said while holiday bookings to the island of Santorini from Germany were down 20–30% (more likely due to political tensions in the EU than worries about safety), the decrease from the UK was expected to be less.
Alexandra of O&B hotel says that in the height of the summer season they expect to be fully booked anyway, and spectacular Santorini – poster child for Greece – could be fully booked three times over. For tourists, fewer visitors might mean you’re more likely to get into popular spots in high season.
Passing through Athens at Christmas, I expected to see differences following the unrest. It makes sense to be cautious now that economic problems have left more people on the breadline, but what I found was a festive, friendly and completely unthreatening city.
I recently returned to Athens for a few days’ holiday, staying first at O&B, an ultra-comfortable hideaway with Acropolis views on the edge of Psirri with its mezes (tapas) restaurants and music cafés, beside ancient ruins and the street markets of Thissio and Monastiraki. There was nothing to suggest that this was a troubled city.
The area around Omonia Square has in recent years become somewhat seedy, grimy and noisy but is easily avoided. And like any other large city, as long as you keep a sensible eye on your bag around Metro stations and stick to the good neighbourhoods (like Acropolis and Syntagma) there’s no need to worry.
Sadly, thanks to the negative publicity, it’s inevitable that some hotels and restaurants will close.
‘The irresponsibility of representation by the media in portraying Greece as a whole has put a great deal of pressure on Greek businesses and people. They are continuing to open up their businesses (as always) but are extremely worried.’ said spirit of the Knights.
However, many reported international tourist numbers were steady or up in 2011, partly thanks to increased numbers from China and the former Soviet Union, though tourists weren’t spending as much because of the recession – tough for local businesses. Tourists in all-inclusive resorts tend to contribute less to the local economy.
‘Yes,’ says Alexandra of O&B, ‘it is really good value. Prices are going down, especially in Athens; many hotels are doing special offers, and airlines are also offering cheap flights to Greece.’
Alex and Felicity at Spirit of the Knights agree:
‘Due to the current climate, many businesses are lowering their rates and there are more deals available.’
Theodore at Fivos also says Greece is really good value now:
‘We have to remain competitive. We can’t devalue our currency but we can improve our services and give better prices.’
In our few days in Athens in March we ate fantastic meals for 15–25 euros for two, found simple double rooms with the Acropolis on the doorstep for 30–65 euros, and travelled by a good Metro service from central Athens to the ferry port for 1.40.
(See 7 Best Value Greek Islands for more information).
Greece is not only safe to visit, it’s also excellent value right now and as beautiful as ever. So if you’re looking for the great beaches, lovely weather, fantastic food, and the same warm welcome it’s always offered, now at great value prices, go Greek this summer.
Jennifer Barclay is a writer and editor and keeps a blog on life in Greece at www.octopus-in-my-ouzo.blogspot.com. Her new book set in Greece, Falling in Honey, will be published in spring 2013.
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