Crisis? What crisis? Katie McGonagle looks at why Brits aren't giving up on Greece
Greece has hardly been out of the headlines in recent years, usually with words like bailout, credit ratings and austerity attached. But when your clients are lying on a golden-sand beach, cocktail in hand and sun overhead, the finer points of international finance should be far from their minds.
Brits are flocking back to these familiar shores as successful elections and a renewed focus on tourism put Greece firmly back on our holiday radar. Chris Wright, managing director of GIC The Villa Collection, says: “Immediately after Greece formed its coalition government, we saw a bounce-back in bookings. People were obviously waiting to see some stability in the country and, as confidence returned, we are pleased to say bookings came back too.”
The UK is now poised to overtake Germany as Greece’s biggest market, so there’s never been a better time to brush up on the latest trends.
LAP OF LUXURY
Robert de Niro and John Travolta have been spotted in Skiathos, Ethan Hawke had a ?holiday in the Peloponnese resort of Costa Navarino, and Brad and Angelina took a sojourn in Santorini. And where the stars go, your luxury-loving clients are bound to follow.
Olympic Holidays commercial director Photis Lambrianides says: “Clients looking for luxury have a good choice on the larger islands, such as the exclusive five-star Elounda properties in Crete and a wide luxury selection in Ixia, Rhodes, along with outstanding top-end hotels on other islands. Boutique properties tend to be found on the smaller islands, with Mykonos and Santorini appealing to 30-something couples looking for small-scale luxury.”
Speaking of small-scale, luxury operators are reporting a swell of interest in lesser-known islands: Thassos, Skopelos and Alonissos are proving popular for Amathus Holidays, Islands of Greece has seen a trend for the Cycladic isles of Sifnos, Folegandros and Naxos, and Classic Collection Holidays has had a surge in enquiries about Spetses, better known for domestic tourism.
New hotel product is also helping cater for this market; Sunvil says recent additions such as five-star boutique Kinsterna Hotel, near Monemvasia in the Peloponnese, are opening up lesser-known areas to luxury clients. Amathus Holidays is expanding its villa and boutique collection next year, while Tui has added the 5T-rated Atlantica Kalliston in Crete to its Thomson Couples range.
You won’t go wrong with classic family properties such as First Choice’s ever-popular Holiday Villages (Kos opens in 2013, joining its sister property in Rhodes), or Thomas Cook’s Aquamania and FamilyWorld ranges. At the higher end, Sani Resort in Halkidiki is known for its excellent facilities and children’s clubs.
Larger islands like Corfu or Crete offer a wealth of options for tiny tots up to tough-to-please teenagers, and extra bedstock means more competitive pricing or free child places.
If you’re finding the choice hard to narrow down, hobbies can help steer your customers towards the right resort. For kids studying ancient history at school, suggest Crete, home to myths about the Minotaur, Labyrinth and Icarus, or a stop at the Acropolis if passing through Athens. If animals are their thing, suggest Zante and ?bolt on Attraction World’s Turtle Trek Tour to Marathonisi Island (£21 adults, £13 for children aged two to 12).
ON A SHOESTRING
Greece’s diversity means it’s always been a reasonably priced destination, with more-expensive islands balanced out by budget-friendly resorts.
Manage expectations though – some clients will be asking for Greece this year because they expect an out-and-out bargain but, other than mild discounting and extended offers, most hoteliers have resisted rock-bottom prices. But there are still good deals around: Sunvil has launched a ‘Holiday Offers and Late Availability’ web portal covering Greece and the Mediterranean (sunvil.co.uk/special-offers).
There are other factors working in their favour: an improved euro exchange rate means clients get more for their money in restaurants and shops, plus shoulder seasons are great value and still hot enough for a beach break.
Islands of Greece suggests alternative travel options such as flying to Athens and taking a ferry to the islands, which can be cheaper than flying direct, or going for good-value islands like Corfu which cater for everyone from party-hard revellers to those seeking a quiet getaway.
Off-peak escapes are also a hit with older clients looking for sunshine without screaming schoolchildren or peak-season prices. But picking the right resort is crucial: active 50-somethings have totally different criteria from older travellers.
Olympic’s Lambrianides says: “Some older clients enjoy the range of facilities and entertainment on offer at the larger hotels, and opt for half-board or even an all-inclusive package to help with budgeting. Another couple the same age may be looking for what they perceive to be more ‘authentic’ accommodation, so we also find the Alternative Greece section of our programme appeals to the 50+ market – islands such as Naxos, Halki, Symi or Skopelos.”
With a hotel-based holiday, opt for a stylish adult-only property. Thomas Cook has added Port Royal in Kolymbia, Rhodes, to its Sentido range, while just down the coast in Lindos, the Ultimate Style collection’s Aquagrand Hotel is popular for its pool suites. Although Thomson’s Sensatori Resort Crete in Lyttos Beach also caters for families, there are two adult-only pools and space for a quiet escape.
For traditional charm, specialist brand Manos suggests mainland Kalamata, home to family-run properties and a short drive from the birthplace of the Olympic Games. Also in the Peloponnese, Sunvil nominates the secluded Kalamaki Villas, each with their own veranda and pool, plus historic towns, quiet fishing villages and magnificent mountain scenery. Or try a quieter island like Paxos to savour freshly-caught fish at the restaurants in Loggos, take a boat trip to nearby Antipaxos, or rent a hilltop villa and hide yourself away.
OUT AND ABOUT
Greece is better known as a relaxing beach destination, but your clients might be surprised by how much there is to do. For those staying near a beach, point out the watersports, from windsurfing and waterskiing to scuba diving and sailing. For a gentler version, book a boat trip; providers such as Do Something Different and Attraction World have a selection.
Back on dry land, the best way to find Greece’s hidden gems is on foot. Sunvil highlights Samos’s walking trails, while Chris Wright of GIC The Villa Collection recommends Ithaca.
“Exploring this unspoilt island by foot, walkers can discover the legendary places mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey, small inland villages, ancient monasteries and deserted beaches,” he says.
Don’t overlook larger islands either; walking and cycling specialist Inntravel began offering Corfu in January and has seen its west coast route become one of this year’s success stories.
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