Op-Ed: ‘Greek Tourism Today and Beyond 2021’ – George Vernicos
Tourism must be restored, rebuilt and adjusted to the new ‘after covid era’ reality, emphasizing on quality and sustainability, according to George Vernicos, the Secretary General of the Greek Tourism Confederation (SETE) and representative of tourism to the European Economic and Social Committee.
The last two years, the coronavirus pandemic has brought unprecedented shock to our economy, society and everyday life, while Greek tourism has gone through – and is still going through – its biggest crisis.
Through a mixture of timely and structured handling, Greece managed to be credited as an example on handling the pandemic. And this was the result of a very successful strategy in order to reassure the smooth re-opening of Greek tourism with safety, professionalism and strict protocols.
The Greek state has already announced the opening of tourism by the 15th of May with specific rules and updated protocols. Until the establishment of population immunity from vaccinations, restrictive measures – including travel restrictions by all European governments – are the only tool to prevent numerous victims.
These restrictions affect many sectors of the European economy, with tourism unfortunately occupying a leading position among them. With arrivals down 69%, 2020 has been described as the worst year for European tourism. According to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the picture at the beginning of 2021, instead of improving, is deteriorating. International tourist arrivals are expected to decline by about 85% in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the same period in 2019, which, if verified, equates to a loss of about 260 million international arrivals compared to pre-pandemic levels, with immediate effect to tourism revenues and jobs.
‘We managed to create a very important tool that will contribute to the restart of tourism and travelling within EU, the Digital Green Certificate… But this can only be a transitional strategy, which must be combined with other measures like the bilateral agreements with non-European countries in order to target on specific markets…’
The progression of vaccinations and the establishment of immunity “wall” against the virus is a priority these days. And it seems that we managed to create a very important tool that will contribute to the restart of tourism and travelling within EU, the Digital Green Certificate, which is already accepted by the 27 European countries and will hopefully be on effect from June onwards.
As a member of the European Economic and Social Committee, I strongly supported this initiative that will facilitate the restart of tourism. But this can only be a transitional strategy, which must be combined with other measures like the bilateral agreements with non-European countries in order to target on specific markets and revised operating and health protocols, as well as the application of supporting economic measures.
Greek tourism appears to be the big protagonist of the next day. The pandemic has crippled global tourism, but there’s been a growing demand for a sustainable reboot of the sector as a whole.
‘There is a growing recognition of how important access to nature is for our physical and mental health and this may benefit coastal, yachting and marine tourism in the long run.’
Those involved in coastal and marine tourism may recover quicker since they are providing mainly outdoor activities, but they will have to implement measures to convince travelers that they are safe and will have to guarantee high standards of service and protection.
There is a growing recognition of how important access to nature is for our physical and mental health and this may benefit coastal, yachting and marine tourism in the long run. Greece is privileged with numerous outdoor activities, both on mainland and coastal areas.
Tourism – after the pandemic crisis, with consistency and hard work, and the common acceptance that Greece is one of the most beautiful tourist destinations in the world – must be restored, rebuilt and adjusted to the new reality, emphasizing on quality and sustainability. The use of technology, innovations, digitalization and the close partnership between private and public sector will be key assets for tourism sector we are trying to create and to enrich the Greek hospitality.