(CNN) – The appeal of Greek tourism is no secret, but with most of us still in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis, the idea of spending our summer can only be a distant dream.
Or maybe not, said Greek officials.
The Mediterranean seems to be a rare coronavirus success story.
By implementing strict and early locking, the country has managed to keep mortality rates very low – only around 150 so far.
This week, several businesses such as hairdressers and bookstores were allowed to reopen for the first time.
And the country’s pragmatic prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, thinks it’s possible, with extreme caution, to become a model to welcome back some travelers this summer.
“This summer’s tourism experience may be a little different from what you had in previous years,” Mitsotakis told CNN Nic Robertson as they sat – socially far away – in his office this week.
“Maybe there are no open bars, or there are no crowds, but you can still get a fantastic experience in Greece – as long as the global epidemic is on a downward track.”
New travel protocol
Opening up to tourism inevitably means opening the country to people who have the potential to carry the virus, but Mitsotakis hopes the current testing regime can be stepped up to reduce risk.
At present, every international tourist is checked for Covid-19 after arriving in Athens.
Before the CNN reporting team even landed in Athens this week, we were asked to fill out forms on our flight from Zurich with all our personal information, as well as our seat numbers – perhaps to allow authorities to trace close contact in case someone on board had positive test results.
After landing in Athens, we were immediately herded into a room where everyone’s throat was rubbed and collected.
We got our results back less than 12 hours later (negative, fortunately).
Mitsotakis hopes for something far more comprehensive. He wants international standards, or at least Europe, which establish the same travel protocol for all countries.
“I would assume that people would be tested before they boarded the plane, not after they arrived here.
“They can only get on the plane with a negative test, or with a positive antibody test,” he said.
If everything goes according to plan, he hopes the country can start welcoming tourists on July 1.
Targeting upper class tourists
The Greek prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotaki, hopes to reopen the country before the end of the summer.
Russell Yan / Pixabay
Given the amount of effort needed to get here when the airlines – including low-cost airlines that transport most of the country’s foreign air arrivals – have stopped flying most of the services, Mitsotakis is counting on “more high-class tourists.”
“Yachting, for example, where you have fewer people on board, and then they go out to eat or buy supplies,” he said.
“Agro-tourism, tourism in smaller hotels, in my opinion is more suitable for this new type of post-pandemic.”
The question of when and how to open is not trivial for a country that has been hit by recession and economic turmoil for more than a decade.
The country’s GDP is at least 20% dependent on tourism, double the global average.
With more than 31 million tourists in 2019, tripling its population, Greece has more than doubled the number of visitors in 10 years and billions have been invested in services and infrastructure. At least one in four Greeks work in the tourism or related industries.
Preliminary estimates have projected a booming year, directing Irene Petrakou and her two brothers to invest in a hotel they run in central Athens.
Opened by their parents in the 1970s, the family business has become their main source of income.
“Early bookings look good, we decided to renovate,” Petrakou said. “The current situation creates a big cash flow problem for us.”
At least 90% of Greek tourism revenue comes from international visitors.
City hotels are expected to reopen on June 1, with seasonal hotels expected to follow up a month later.
“The first part of summer is gone,” he added. “Clients with bookings at the end of the season have a ‘wait and see’ approach, which is good.”
Like many people in the industry, Petrakou believes that Greece’s success in controlling the virus early is the key to the country’s tourism brand that survived the crisis in its entirety and could lead to faster recovery.
The Greek prime minister told CNN that the sense of collective success around the country’s struggle against Covid-19 would be a legacy he took from the crisis.
“And I dare to use the word vanity,” he added. “The Greeks have not been proud for a very long time,”
That pride, and what he hopes will be the relative safety of Greece’s Covid-19 strategy so far, will be a draw this summer.
“It is very good to have these sentiments back. Because of positive feelings, and they will help us to overcome the great economic crisis which is clearly imminent.”