ATHENS, Feb 17 (Reuters) – Greece’s tourism minister on Thursday said the visitor season would officially start in March, earlier than previous years, and there were “positive signs” of a bumper summer ahead.
After COVID-19 brought global travel to a standstill in 2020, Greek tourism suffered its worst year on record with just 7 million visitors bringing in revenues of 4 billion euros ($4.55 billion).
The industry, which accounts for a fifth of the economy and one in five jobs, began to recover last year when a season that officially began in May delivered about 10.5 billion euros in revenues, far less than an all-time record in 2019.
“There is great demand and great dynamic for Greek tourism in 2022,” Tourism Minister Vassilis Kikilias said. “Big tour operators, big airline companies, want to prolong the period (from March through December).”
“There are strong signs for Greek tourism,” he told Reuters in an interview.
An earlier start means hotels that close over the winter months can reopen earlier and tour operators begin bringing in parties.
IOBE, an influential think tank, projected in its quarterly economic review last month that tourism will help Greece’s economy grow by 4.5% to 5.0% this year. It sees tourism revenues reaching 80%-90% of the record of 2019, when 33 million visitors brought in 18 billion euros.
Kikilias, who was health minister at the height of the pandemic, declined to give a forecast for this year, saying only that it would be better than 2021.
Greece had inched above its targeted revenues for 2021, which he cited as “a positive sign to be optimistic”.
Already Greece has eased travel restrictions imposed to combat the spread of COVID-19 and fully vaccinated visitors do not need a negative test to enter the country.
“Greece is open to everybody, from today. But the actual season, the summer season, is starting for us on March 1 this year,” Kikilias said.
Greece, like most of Europe, saw a surge in infections in January driven by the Omicron variant, but the numbers have been falling and Kikilias said there was demand for travel.
“After this huge crisis of global public health, people tend to want to travel, enjoy their vacations, spend money, and I think Greece is in pole position,” Kikilias said.
“Yes, the pandemic is still here but we have weapons to fight it – vaccination, new drugs.”
($1 = 0.8793 euros)
Reporting by Karolina Tagaris; editing by Barbara Lewis