If you felt a breeze on Tuesday, it might have been the sigh of relief from a tourism industry that’s been patiently holding its breath since November.
If things go according to plan, Greece’s nationwide lockdown, which extended throughout the winter holiday season, when some destinations normally get a boost from domestic tourism, will be lifted or adjusted to accommodate for tourists to return this spring.
The announcement from Tourism Minister Harry Theocharis that Greece is getting ready to open its doors to tourists in May was welcome news, to say the least, to the country’s tourism professionals, but also to the many travelers impatiently waiting to get back to Greece’s many popular destinations this summer.
But what exactly are travelers in for; what will a vacation in Greece look like in 2021?
What did the announcement say?
According to the message delivered by Theocharis, who spoke from the Acropolis Museum at the virtual ITB Berlin travel trade show, visitors from all over the world will be welcome in Greece from May 14, provided they can present a document showing either that they have been vaccinated against Covid-19, that they carry antibodies, or that they have tested negative for the virus within 72 hours of traveling.
Random testing will also be performed at entry points, and since these will be the new rapid tests, anyone who tests positive will be informed and placed in quarantine, whereas others will be able to immediately continue with their travels (as opposed to last year, when there was a 24-hour wait for the results).
Visitors from within the EU and select countries where mass-vaccination programs have proceeded swiftly, such as Israel, may be welcomed even sooner – hopefully in April.
To further minimize the risk of tourism-related spread of the virus, the country’s tourism workers will be next in line to be offered the Covid-19 vaccine, once the most vulnerable groups have been vaccinated.
Theocharis also announced that, as in 2020, if a visitor does contract Covid-19 while on holiday in Greece, all related medical expenses will be covered by the state.
International Praise for Greece’s Lead
The president and CEO of the World Travel & Tourism Council, Gloria Guevara, has praised the Greek government for its decision to open the country to tourism, saying: “This clear roadmap to recovery […] lays out the pathway which other countries could follow, in a bid to kick-start safe travel and help revive their own stricken economies.
“The Greek government’s strategy and measures revealed are broadly in line with WTTC advice, and we are pleased it will soon be welcoming travelers with proof of vaccination, a negative test or a positive antibody test, with only positive cases required to quarantine.”
Where can we go? What can we do? What will be open?
A new advertisement campaign from the Greek National Tourism Organization (EOT) was also presented at the ITB. Its slogan “All you want is Greece,” and the associated images of gorgeous destinations all around the country, say it all: Greece as you know it will be here. The hope is for all destinations, major hotels, and tourist attractions such as museums and archaeological sites to be open.
Alongside the main campaign, the organization’s Secretary General, Dimitris Fragakis, recently revealed that there will also be four micro-campaigns for the summer of 2021. These will focus on destinations, activities and aspects of the country that one might enjoy while, to a certain degree at least, still practicing some social-distancing, such as agritourism, yachting, other outdoor activities, and wellness.
While you may opt for a regular beach vacation, it is likely that many visitors, hungry for adventure after a year without travel, will look for alternative types of experiences (if you are one of them, you might like our article featuring 13 big adventures to have in Greece in 2021).
Will I be safe?
The safest option for avoiding contact with the coronavirus is still to stay at home. However, according to the announcement from Theocharis, whether you choose to visit one of the more established tourist destinations or a less crowded place, a comprehensive plan is being rolled out to ensure that travel in Greece this summer will be safe, including reinforcing the healthcare system at destinations all around the country to cope with potential issues.
It’s also worth noting that, in order to keep the locals of small communities safe, and to prevent unexpected hotspots in rural areas with limited health care, the government has chosen to move ahead faster with vaccinations in some isolated places. So far, 18 islands with fewer than 1000 permanent residents are, or soon will be “covid-free,” with almost their entire populations vaccinated.
What kind of restrictions will be in place?
Greece is currently in lockdown, but the aim is for the restrictions (the curfew and the shuttering of stores, restaurants and sights) to be gradually lifted before the arrival of the first tourists sometime in May.
Any safety measures still in place when the tourist season begins, however, will apply to all visitors as well as locals. The Greek Ministry of Tourism has indicated that the obligatory use of face masks in public spaces may be something that tourists will have to comply with.
Going by last summer, other restrictions that would be noticeable to visitors are likely to be bans on indoor dining and large gatherings, as well as tighter restrictions on the numbers of sun loungers on beaches. Fewer people allowed at once in museums, and a restaurant curfew, are also possibilities.
However, none of this is yet for certain. According to newspaper Kathimerini, a special committee is currently working on recommendations for which restrictions should remain when the tourists return.