The North Aegean islands bearing the brunt of the refugee crisis for over a year now are seeing their tourism industry crumble as hopes of any improvement are gradually dying out.
Some 112 refugees made it to Greece just hours into the new year while 7,625 applications – up by 593 percent – for asylum were submitted in November alone (compared to 1,100 in the same month in 2015). Requests by female refugees soared by 932.7 percent and by unaccompanied minors by 711.4 percent. The largest number of applications were submitted in September and October, mostly by Syrians, Pakistanis, Iraqis and Afghans.
As a result, the islands of Lesvos, Chios and Samos – at the forefront of the crisis – are faced with a major blow to an industry which has for decades fed the community and the local economy. Charter flights have not been planned, hotel and room bookings have been cancelled, as have conferences, cruise ship arrivals and flights from abroad. At the same time, negative news coverage and disturbing images of the islands, the plight of the migrants and the refugee camps continue to ward off tourists.
According to a survey by V&O for the Regional Authority of the Northern Aegean, presented in Greek daily Kathimerini, the ongoing crisis has forced a number of accommodation units on these islands to shut down much earlier than usual due to dying out business.
Indicatively, the number of charter flight arrivals to Lesvos dropped by a massive 58.75 percent from April to October year-on-year, while all charter flights from Sweden, the Czech Republic, Finland, Belgium, Italy, Poland and Slovenia were axed. No charter flights have been planned for Chios this year, which saw a 68.91 percent decline from 2015. Samos, meanwhile, saw arrivals drop by 23.14 percent from last year, with no visitors from France or Poland.
Hoteliers and tourism professionals have repeatedly expressed alarm calling on the government to boost the island’s ailing sector by granting tax relief measures as well as including these destinations in special promotional programs for 2017. They propose the Greek tourism ministry work with international tour operators towards offering seven- or 14-day holiday package deals in efforts to draw in visitors.