During the first days of this year, the consul general of the U.S. embassy here in Athens informed the Greek Union of Air Travel Agencies that it was suspending the travel agency program for issuing visas to the USA. Although the formalities and procedures for visas were complex, and expensive, the Greek agents had been willing to help in the issuance of some 70,000 visas annually. A press release by the union reminded that this precious service for clients was being cancelled without good reason.
Last month, the Hellenic Association of Travel & Tourism Agents issued a similar release. It emphasized that the newest order was more than unfair since as of 4/8/2003 it demands that all Greeks traveling to the U.S. must hold a visa and that this includes passengers flying out of Greece and transiting at U.S. airports. The association stressed that Greek citizens are the only ones in the European Union that must have a visa to enter the U.S., and even to transit from the U.S.
A first thought is that this may have something to do with last month’s article in the New York Times, which said that the Al Qaeda terrorist network was active in Greece and possibly planning to launch rockets from a Greek international airport against American passenger aircraft. (Certainly they focus on the new Athens airport since it’s the only one in Greece served by an American carrier.) However, after its first year of operation, the new Athens international airport, Eleftherios Venizelos, which at the time constructed (2001) was classed as one of Europe’s biggest investments, was named second best in Europe by the International Air Transport Association. This was followed by recent European (and USA) inspection reports that said the airport was one of the safest in the world.
After the publication of the article, the U.S. State Department announced that it had no information that Al Qaeda was active in Greece, on the contrary, it said the State Department applauds Greece for its progress in fighting against the terrorism phenomenon. Nonetheless, for a very short period the article truly upset the apple cart.
For all the above, and many, many more, it is suggested that Greek tourism professional leaders, instead of press releases, strongly demand that the Hellenic Ministry of External Affairs implement the “principle of reciprocation” and insist that all Americans that visit or transit Greece must hold a government-issued travel visa. And yes, like the U.S. embassy here, charge 100 euros for filling in the visa application, regardless of whether or not it is accepted.
P.S. For guidance to professional leaders let it be known that many years ago when Japan was in a similar situation it announced the implementation of the principle of reciprocation. Japanese now travel to the U.S. without a visa.