Greece has officially kicked off its tourist season, lifting most remaining restrictions on movement and declaring “we are putting the lockdown behind us”.
Although an average of 2,000 daily Covid cases are still being reported, vaccinations are being rolled out with the Greek islands as a priority.
A fifth of Greece’s economy is seen as dependent on the tourism sector and 20% of workers are employed by it.
“We are opening our tourist industry to the world,” Tourism Minister Haris Theoharis announced on Thursday evening in front of the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion outside Athens.
The European Union has yet to roll out its cellphone-friendly travel pass system. But southern member-states, driven deeper into debt by the pandemic and highly dependent on tourism revenues, are not waiting.
Croatia has already reopened, as has Cyprus, joined Friday by Greece where residents were allowed to leave home without an electronic permit for the first time in six months.
Last year, the number of visitors to Greece plummeted by 78.2% to 7.4 million — from a record 34 million in 2019 — according to official data, with a corresponding drop in tourism revenues.
Greece is hoping to claw back half the 2019 visitor level. It’s vowed to finish vaccinating its entire island population over the next six weeks and will even waive test requirements for tourists who have received vaccines made in Russia and China that are not approved for use domestically.
Other Mediterranean countries are also looking for an edge.
Malta is promising visitors vouchers to go diving and cash rebates to high-end hotel customers.
In Turkey, visitors from abroad have been exempt from stay-at-home orders applying to Turks, thus enjoying an empty Istanbul, and little-populated beach resorts. Starting Monday, travelers from China, Britain, Australia, and 13 other countries will be allowed in without even having to present a negative COVID-19 test.
Italy is expected to drop a five-day quarantine requirement for travelers from the EU, Britain and Israel this weekend, but many in the hospitality industry are still bracing for another tough year.