A window of opportunity has opened up to achieve this year's goals in touris, which target 50% of revenues booked in 2019, amidst initial indications that key markets for Greece will open in May, such as the UK, combined with the government's determination to facilitate the entry of vaccinated visitors into the country, even if it means movng outside the European Union's common vaccination policy.
European leaders are expected to discuss the issue of a common vaccination certificate at two-day summit, which begins today, but despite strong pressure from southern leaders, including Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, decisions are not expected.
Blocs of countries, including France and Germany, are reluctant to adopt vaccination certificates because they believe that this would create a de facto vaccination obligation and discriminate against those citizens who do not want to or cannot be vaccinated. The idea of vaccination passports is "premature", a French official told Reuters. There are also serious legal issues, as those who will be last in line for vaccinations may argue that their right to free movement is being unjustly restricted.
In this context, the draft of a joint statement prepared by the leaders states only the following: "We call for the continuation of the work for a common approach to the vaccination certificates,".without setting a timetable for the outcome of this effort.
Despite the hold up at the European level, the Greek government appears determined to implement Plan B through transnational agreements to make use of progress on vaccinations to boost tourism. According to Finance Ministry officials, the consequences of freezing tourism revenues in 2021 at very low levels would be catastrophic for the economy.
At the same time, the initial steps are being taken to open key tourism markets, such as the UK. In particular, the British government announced that no later than May 17, travel abroad will be allowed for leisure travel. At the same time, according to a Times article, Greece is considering whether it can deviate from EU policy and open its borders as early as May to British tourists who can prove they have been vaccinated (at present, Britain does not issue, however, vaccination certificates). The same publication reported that the Greek government is planning a process to vaccinate workers at airports and hotels.
The news in London brought an immediate boost to bookings by Britons for holidays in Greece:
•As Andreas Andreadis, CEO of the Sani / Ikos group and president of SETE for several years, characteristically wrote on Twitter: There is undoubtedly a lot of uphill and even reversals in the pandemic. But I believe that our tourism seems to be crossing the cape and heading to calmer waters.
• EasyJet announced that Crete was among the most popular destinations for British travellers. In fact, it said that the increase in bookings for flights during the summer months reached 300% this week, compared to the previous one. TUI also reported that Greece, along with Spain and Turkey, has the largest shares in holiday bookings from July onwards.
• The airlines were directly boosted, with Aegean's share soaring more than 14% yesterday, while Easyjet's share also rose sharply and the low-cost company managed to raise 1.2 billion euros by issuing a seven-year bond, which attracted strong investment interest, confirming the change in expectations for tourism.
It should be noted, however, that tourism officials have some reservations about the large increases announced in UK bookings, noting that the growth rates reported are very high because they are comparable to last week's when booking tickets were still close to absolute zero. They will have to wait several weeks, they note, until more concrete conclusions are drawn.
The question, they say, is whether the government will be able to find a formula, even outside a common European framework, to open the border to foreign visitors who have been vaccinated. Such a bilateral agreement has already been reached with Israel, while are also taking place with the Romanian government.
Goal is to open hotels in June
In comments to Business Daily, the president of the Panhellenic Hoteliers Federation, Grigoris Tassios, stressed that the decisions of the British government are good news and notes that those who cooperate with Jet2, the second largest tour operator after TUI, received a letter from the company that says that we are ready to start, an assurance that is very important.
Tassios underlines the need for the government to show determination and move on to other transnational agreements. "It started with Israel. There must be something a similar agreement with Balkan countries for road tourism, as well as with Russia."
He also adds,
• The government and the Ministry of Tourism clearly want to open up tourism, land borders and flights. The goal is to open from the beginning of May, from the Orthodox Easter, in order to have domestic tourism, to create the appropriate climate and from June to open the tourism normally.
• This should be done with the right rules in place. The government and the ministry favor tourists providing one of the three: the vaccination certificate, molecular test or rapid test.
• This summer will be different from last year. This year we have the vaccine, we know the protocols and how they should be applied. Last year, 5,500 hotels opened, while our goal is to open 100% of the country's tourist units from June 15 onwards.
• We are in an open dialogue with the government and a month ago we suggested that if there are enough vaccines, workers in the industry should be vaccinated. Ofcourse this is a difficult task, because the hotel employees reach 210,000 and in total, indirectly or directly, employees reach 700,000.
• It is still early to make an estimate for this year. The goal is to reach 50% of 2019. We can achieve this, if we have high occupancy rates from June 15 - 20 onwards.