A number of Greek island destinations are ready to receive higher visitor numbers than last year, as local COVID-19 vaccination levels have reached 100 percent. In fact, the international press has already referred to these spots as “COVID-free” summer tourist destinations.
The government vaccination program called “Eleftheria” (Greek for “Liberty”) is mainly responsible for this; under that program, those islands with no more than 1000 inhabitants were targeted to be “liberated” from the perils of COVID-19, and many are already making plans for the upcoming tourist season, according to conversations that island authorities have had with the Athens-Macedonian News Agency. Of course, other Greek destinations share the same hopes, particularly as some were not particularly impacted by the COVID pandemic while others, with the roll-out of the vaccine for local populations and for those involved in the tourism industry, will also soon be “COVID-free” and ready to welcome domestic and foreign visitors.
Islands with fewer than a thousand inhabitants where the vaccination program has been completed include Kastellorizo, Meganisi, Kastos, Thimena, Psara, Kalamos, Fourni and Inousses, while the islands of Erikoussa, Agathonisi, Nisyros, Gavdos, Halki, Mathraki, Lipsi, Othoni, Tilos and Arki have completed the first vaccination cycle.
The remaining islands with fewer than 1000 inhabitants that are also part of the Eleftheria vaccination program and are looking forward to reaping its benefits are Donoussa, Elafonisos, Saria, Kimolos, Ano Koufonisi, Iraklia, Psara, Thimena, Telendos, Folegandros, Thirasia, Trizonia, Anafi, Sikinos, Pserimos, Ammouliani, Aghios Efstratios, Paleo Trikeri, Schinoussa, Giali, Antikythera, Peristera, Antipaxi, Marathi, Dokos, Kalolimnos and Farmakonisi.
Kastellorizo – the first “COVID-free” destination in the country
Kastellorizo was the first island to have its inhabitants vaccinated; this took place from the 27th to the 30th of January. As the island’s deputy mayor Stratos Amygdalos explained to the Athens-Macedonian News Agency, the vaccinations changed daily life for everyone on the island. Fear, he said, has now given way to optimism, particularly since nearly 90% of the local inhabitants are involved in the tourism industry, and everyone is looking forward to this year’s tourist season. Focusing on predictions for tourism in 2021, the deputy mayor noted that, while last year was dominated by cancelations, this year has already shown a clear increase in demand, which is expected to soon take the more concrete form of firm bookings.
Amygdalos said that while those Greek expatriates, particularly the ones from Australia, who usually visit the island did not come last year, there’s hope for a better – and longer – tourist period this year. The arrival of visitors from Turkey is also of great importance, he noted, especially in those months considered as off-season, such as April and November. During the summer, the island’s permanent population of 500 almost doubles as a result of tourism; in any case, the island can’t provide overnight accommodation for more than 500 tourists. In the months of July and August, daily visitors to the island sometimes surpass the 1000-person mark, with proportionate effects on the local economy. It ‘s worth noting that, at the height of the tourist season, eight passenger boats a week dock at Kastellorizo, and there are visits by private boats and yachts as well, which also contribute to visitor numbers. In addition, there’s a small airport, with scheduled flights to and from Rhodes.
Favorable prospects for Meganisi – Elafonisos – Lipsi
The prospects for the new tourist season are also favorable for Meganisi, with mayor Pavlos Daglas recently telling the Athens-Macedonian News Agency that the island is looking to the future with optimism and with confidence. In the meantime, local authorities say that the small island of Elafonisos has been sparking interest since last year among Greek and foreign travelers and tourism professionals as an up-and-coming destination. The safety measures and the hospitality afforded to visitors was highlighted in the German media and in other foreign markets, particularly since this relatively small tourist destination has remained unscathed by the pandemic. What’s more, as its mayor Efi Liarou recently pointed out, its vaccination program is continuing at a fast pace.
The mayor of Lipsi, Fotis Magos, told the Athens-Macedonian News Agency that his island remains officially COVID-free, as there have been zero cases recorded there since the beginning of the pandemic. The first cycle of vaccinations of the entire local populace has already been successfully completed, and the second cycle is about to begin. “Now, we can look forward to a new, better tourist season,” Magos said, “and we are taking all the necessary actions to preserve and improve accessibility, all while retaining the vigilance that’s has been ingrained in our collective consciousness and not slipping into complacency.”
Actions that assure health and safety in Ios, Skopelos, Andros and Sifnos.
Islands with larger populations are also looking to the new tourist season with optimism, as vaccinations have been almost completed on Ios, Skopelos, Andros and Sifnos. The mayors of these islands spoke to the Athens-Macedonian News Agency about measures in place to assure health and safety. The mayor of Ios, Gikas Gikas, said that recorded cases on his island ranged from very few to none at times, while vaccination for permanent residents over the age of 60 had already begun, and was taking place in a very positive light. Contributing factors to the success of the vaccine program include the excellent training of the staff at the island’s health center, an awareness among the island’s residents and professionals, easy access to diagnostic tests, and the donation of equipment such as the molecular analysis device.
In Skopelos, mayor Stamatis Perissis said that the island continues to be a nearly COVID-free destination, with minimal isolated incidents, and is considered one of the top destinations in Thessaly with the fewest positive cases because of the concerted efforts of the relevant institutions, authorities, and residents. “The first cycle of vaccinations was completed with residents showing great willingness to participate. We believe that by the end of spring the vast majority of the island’s population will be fully vaccinated.”
The mayor of Andros, Dimitris Lotsaris, said that a special area had been created in the local health center and that medical equipment has been procured for the entire island. In addition, he said that the municipality is making vaccinations accessible to all, and that frequent rapid tests are taking place in partnership with the Hellenic National Public Health Organization.
Regarding the island of Sifnos, Mayor Maria Nadali noted that her island remains a COVID-free destination, highlighting that the health and safety of Sifnos has been assured with the hiring of new medical staff and significant donations of medical equipment, such as a portable ventilator and an oxygen concentrator.
“This year, we will not be nurses in our own hotels”
Putting the health and safety of visitors and residents as a priority, mainland destinations that are accessible by car will also claim important portions of the tourist market, the president of the Hotels’ Union of Lakonia Prefecture Dimitris Pollalis said when speaking to the Athens-Macedonian News Agency. The Peloponnese, he explained, was largely unaffected by COVID last year, and he pointed out that quarantine hotels were not used, as the security measures followed by hotel management and visitors alike were more than adequate. “This year,” Pollalis said, “we will not be nurses in our hotels,” noting that the vaccination program is continuing as planned, and that the summer weather conditions will also help contribute to limiting the spread of the virus. Pollalis hopes for a very good July and August this year, and he did not exclude the possibility of extending the tourist season, either. He also called on the government to continue the program “Tourism for Everyone” for the coming year, saying that last year it helped to support small businesses to a considerable degree.
The health and safety of destinations should be the focus of their marketing approach
In a statement to the Athens-Macedonian News Agency, Notis Martakis, president of Mtc Group, active in the field of marketing and with clients that include many island municipalities, noted that the roll-out of the vaccine and its portrayal as an effective means of prevention should be basic material for the tourism industry’s main marketing approach.
Any destination, such as Paros for instance, that is progressing well with its vaccination program, or other destinations, such as Elafonisos, that have recorded zero cases of infection, and are also running vaccination programs have a clear advantage in claiming a larger share of the market. Highlighting these facts is where his efforts are focused, as a tourism consultant for local authorities on the islands.
Martakis said that showcasing the extent of health and safety measures is of vital importance, much more than the beauties and attractions each destination has to offer, as safety is what concerns travelers the most right now. His goal as a marketing professional, he stated, was to “showcase the security measures each area is taking, and to raise awareness among professionals and residents so that they work within the parameters of these measures.”
Martakis, focusing on the bilateral agreements between nations, noted that the policies followed by the Greek government are moving in the right direction. Yet, as he also mentioned, these policies need to consider removing any challenges that may act as deterrents to travel, such as the cost of diagnostic testing for those who have not yet been vaccinated.
This article was first published in Greek on kathimerini.gr.