By Ian Taylor in Greece
Representatives of the European Central Bank, the European Commission and International Monetary Fund – ‘the troika’ – flew into Athens on Tuesday. I flew into Greece on Wednesday.
Our arrivals were unconnected. The troika were in Athens to review the new Greek government’s level of compliance with austerity demands imposed by the institutions which comprise it.
On this basis they will decide whether to release the next phase of funding of an agreed bail-out.
I’m in Greece to assess the extent of the welcome to visitors and ease of experience for holidaymakers in light of the country’s well-publicised debt crisis.
Our work won’t overlap, but there is a connection between the visits. The troika may decide Greece has failed to meet its commitments to what, most observers agree, are crippling loan terms.
An unnamed troika official, quoted on Tuesday, said: “Greece is hugely off track.” The possibility of a Greek exit from the euro zone – a Grexit – is openly touted once more. At any moment Greece could be back in the news in a way that is discouraging to visitors.
Yet Greece is as open for tourism and the country as enjoyable and welcoming as ever, and that won’t be in jeopardy should the troika freeze payments and place the Greek government budget on hold.
The packed easyJet flight from Gatwick to Santorini on Wednesday morning suggested no shortage of those who understand that. Reports suggest bookings to Greece have surged in the aftermath of the country’s general election last month (June 17).
On Santorini there is no evidence of a recession let alone the deep crisis reported in the news. Hotels, restaurants and bars are open as normal. Ferries are operating, taxis running, historic sites and museums open.
There are no closed shops, no derelict buildings apart from the usual, odd, half-finished construction. Everything is beautifully whitewashed, the streets clean.
Upmarket hotels report being full after a quiet start to the season. The capital Fira is perhaps a little quieter than normal for the time of year, but people seem relaxed about it. Smiles are everywhere.
Yiannis Syxeris, the manager of the San Antonio Hotel in Imerovigli overlooking the caldera of Santorini, summarises the dilemma for Greek tourism beautifully. “God was generous with the land he gave us Greeks,” he says, “but not with the politicians.”
He tells me with incredulity: “A German visitor asked me, ‘Why are you smiling. Have you given me a bad room.'” There are no bad rooms at the San Antonio.
Elsewhere in Greece the picture might be different, of course – in Athens, in particular. The worry is that the deliberations of the troika will have an impact when the economy of Greece is already forecast to contract by 7% this year.
One small area at risk if payments are suspended and budgets put on hold is the ability of the Greek National Tourism Organisation to publicise the fact that the country is open as normal.
New tourism minister Olga Kefalogianni was in London last week to discuss joint-marketing arrangements with UK tour operators. A budget freeze would not help anyone.
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