It’s turbulent times for Greece, with austerity hitting the country hard and uncertainty hitting the tourism industry. Our ‘girl on the ground’, Jennifer Barclay, author and Greece aficionado explains why this summer, Greece is a real bargain, and why the Greek welcome is warmer than ever.
Here in Greece the sun is shining, it’s 30+ degrees centigrade, the beaches, breath-taking scenery, history and hospitality all await visitors from rain-sodden Britain. And Greece needs tourists to come; tourism is the main industry and so many businesses rely on a good, busy summer.
The results of the new election on 17 June – a narrow victory for Nea Dimokratia, in favour of doing whatever it takes to stay in the euro – mean there is less likelihood of a Greek exit, averting immediate worries.
Of course, there are challenges ahead as a new coalition government tries to find a workable solution to staying in the euro. But if you’re thinking about a Greek holiday this year, do you need to be concerned?
I have a holiday booked in Greece. If they leave the euro, how will it affect my holiday and should I still go?
If Greece left the euro – and the election result makes this seem a more remote possibility – nothing would happen overnight. In the case of Greek exit, or indeed discontent over the austerity measures, there could be strikes and demonstrations – but as when these things happen anywhere in the world, you would be very unlikely to be affected during your holiday. If you’re not travelling with a tour operator, stay abreast of developments in case there’s anything you should be aware of. But you don’t need to worry.
Be prepared for a very warm welcome from local business owners. The islands are likely to be a little quieter, as many Greeks might have to forgo their holidays. One island-based agent says:
‘There will be minimal if any effect on holidays, especially on the smaller islands. Everything is running normally. Whatever the outcome, hard currencies will be readily accepted.’
Don’t forget, the pound is strong against the euro so you’ll get the best exchange rate in years.
How is the Greek tourist industry dealing with the uncertainty?
In spite of the election result, it’s still hard to know how the political situation will play out, so it’s been nigh on impossible to make preparations; the message people here want to send is:
‘Yes, we’re having political issues, but please don’t stay away; they won’t affect your holiday.’
Businesses are offering what deals they can to encourage any holidaymakers who are uncertain. The atmosphere on Rhodes this summer is very friendly and welcoming. If the currency did change, businesses would work with conversion rates issued.
The Minister of Culture and Tourism, Tatiana Karapanagioti, made a statement in early June that she hopes visitors will come and enjoy the true Greece. Priority is being given to tourism and therefore the summer staffing at museums and archaeological sites has not been subject to cutbacks.
Would Greece become a cheaper destination if it were to leave the Eurozone?
Greece is already a good value destination. It offers a share of high-end holidays, but in plenty of places, great quality accommodation and meals are priced very reasonably, well below the UK. And certainly with the pound strong against the euro, and the deals on offer, there are bargains to be snapped up this year.
If Greece were to leave the euro (remember: this is now looking unlikely) the pound would very likely go further against the new currency, though the cost of imported goods would go up for Greeks. Some say devaluation would boost competitiveness and help economic recovery, that regaining control of the currency could work in Greece’s favour.
What is the feeling on the ground of everyday Greeks and those involved in the tourist industry?
Something doing the rounds on Facebook recently said: ‘Greek sun, Greek sea, Greek history – not in Crisis’. Life in most of Greece is magical as ever.
Tourism is Greece’s main industry, and owners of taxis and shops and hotels have been frustrated that all this speculation has been happening when people are booking their holidays. But they are working as normal. Bookings from Ukraine and Russia are up, and now that the elections are over, Greece is hoping that holidaymakers will lay their fears to rest.
There’s been uncertainty and worry here in Greece; people are suffering from the austerity measures; but there’s also hope that corruption in the system might be addressed, that the crisis could lead to change for the better.
Go to Greece and enjoy it. There are plenty of great prices on flights to Greece right now, so make the most of the good exchange rate and the deals, and go meet the genuinely warm people. (See 7 Best Value Greek Islands for more information).
Don’t forget that despite everything, the sun still shines in Greece.
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.