Op-Ed: Sofia Zacharaki on Greek tourism’s comeback
As we all know too well, the last two years have been unimaginably testing for tourism. Tourism cannot thrive without freedom and the freedom to travel was one of the pandemic’s first casualties.
Yet despite it all, tourism persevered. Last year, Greek tourism dramatically recovered, with a 140% increase of revenues compared to 2020, reaching 60% of revenues of the pre-pandemic era. And most importantly, spending per traveler increased by 30% compared to 2019. Tourism proved to be the catalyst for the overall recovery of the Greek economy and its 8.3 GDP growth, which surpassed all expectations and placed us as the second-best performing economy in the Eurozone.
This year, Greek tourism is building upon last year’s recovery to achieve new heights. Our high season has begun much earlier, and all major restrictions have been lifted. Data from the first trimester of 2022 show a 340% increase on 2021, and we’re aiming for our arrivals to almost match those of May 2019 – the record year for Greek tourism.
Already, different carriers are increasing their airline capacity to Greece, exceeding even 2019 levels. Major tour operators are projecting a significant increase – even doubling – of their arrivals to Greece.
All available data point to one conclusion: Greek tourism is making a strong comeback in 2022– and cruises are a particular case in point. After a dramatic recovery last year, more and more ships and cruises are being added, departing from Piraeus, Rhodes, Katakolo, Heraklion, Corfu, Chania, Lavrion or Thessaloniki – where there are now 10 times more cruises than in 2019. Greece now ranks as the 3rd cruise destination in Europe. Cruises have started much earlier this year, and 87 cruise ships of CLIA members are expected to cruise in Greece, reaching the levels of 2019, with 54% of cruises having a Greek home port.
The two-year long covid crisis was undoubtedly a stressful ordeal for all. But in crisis, there is also opportunity if the correct choices are made. Greece has made important steps in covering lost ground and adapting to the new needs of the market. We have reduced tax burdens, upgraded our digital infrastructure and services, cut red tape, and attracted a record level of investments, especially in the hotel industry during the pandemic. And more investments in tourism are on their way.
Our main priority now is to ensure that future tourist growth follows a sustainable path. This is why we are putting particular emphasis on alternative forms of tourism. Through the Recovery & Resilience Fund of NextGenerationEU, we’re investing 300 million euros in tourism, 100 of which are in forms of tourism like gastronomy, agrotourism, wine tourism, diving tourism, wellness and winter tourism – for which we had a targeted campaign this year with the motto “Greece does have a winter”, adding to our City Break campaign. And in order to increase the maritime tourism potential for the future, we are launching a 160-million-euro RRF program of targeted investments to upgrade our tourist port infrastructure.
Right now, we find ourselves at a critical juncture. We are overcoming the consequences of the pandemic, while confronting new challenges in terms of the spike in energy prices, inflation, and of course the Russian invasion of Ukraine. We are also trying hard to tackle the hospitality staff shortages with short and mid-term targeted measures and long term planning to redesign our tourism education offer and emphasize the pull factors drawing young people to hospitality.
Yet despite these crises and their local impact, Greek tourism continues its rise, and is poised to have a great year. In this effort we should all come together in synergies and forward thinking to ensure that Greece can weather the storms of the global challenges that we are currently facing, and those we may face in the future.
Deputy Minister of Tourism
Read next: Olympia Anastasopoulou on sustainable tourism | Thought leaders home