Greece Takes Steps to Protect Tourism

Later this month, Greece will hold its second round of elections to determine how it will handle its budget crisis—and, ultimately, if it will continue to use the euro as its currency. 

Reuters is reporting that a recent poll, by VPRC for Epikaira magazine, showed SYRIZA, a radical leftist party that says it wants the debt-laden country to remain in the euro but to ditch austerity, would win 30 percent of the vote if elections were held now.

Chryssanthos Petsilas, director of the Greece National Tourism Organization in New York, told Travel Agent that the Tourism Organization is not worried about currency. “Our only concern is with this kind of publicity,” he said. Instead, their concern is that people will postpone their trips to Greece until the country’s fiscal troubles are resolved.

To combat this, he continued, Greece is taking steps to promote and ease tourism: “For example, they lowered the sales tax from 11.5 to 6.5 percent,” Petsilas said. In addition, all of the country’s airports - except for Athens, which is under German management - are tax free landing zones for the summer and half price for winter. Late last year, the cabotage law that blocked foreign ships from conducting Greece-only cruises was lifted. “The cruise industry was waiting,” he said of the repeal, but noted that it will take years for the cruise lines to create their new itineraries. 

“We’re asking our partners in the private sector to help,” Petsilas said. “Tourism is our No. 1 income, and we need the support, and we have to do things professionally to keep our numbers up.” Last year, he noted, the country saw an increase in luxury travel, destination weddings and honeymoons. Yachting numbers were steady, but there was a decrease in FITs and business travel. “I hope we’ll come back and hold the numbers from the US,” Petsilas added, saying that the Organization will solicit advice from travel agents to help promote the country to American travelers, and will be offering fams and individual trips in the future. 

“I don’t think Greece will go back to the drachma. It’s not good for the EU or for Greece,” he said. “We will find way to work with the euro. The exchange rate is good for U.S. visitors and for exports. There’s a good wind on the horizon, but every budget is tight. Everyone has to do more with less money, and the rate of exchange has a lot to do with vacations.” Ultimately, he believes, people will find a way to work together for the overall good of the country. 

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