Picture yourself in Greece, gyros and Mythos in hand, looking over those classic white rooftops to the sparkling blue seas. There’s nothing quite like a Greek summer: the sun, sea, sites, food, and the lovely people. It might be hard to imagine right now, but recent announcements mean your Greek dream may soon become a reality.
The COVID-19 pandemic has meant strict travel restrictions across the world. Visiting other countries for tourism has been off the cards for most, grounding flights and our hopes for international vacations. But as vaccine programs roll out across the globe and normality gradually resumes, some countries are looking at what could be possible for safe tourism in the near future. One country that seems to be leading the pack is Greece.
The country’s Tourism Minister, Harry Theoharis, said the government aspires for all tourists to be welcomed into Greece by May 14, with such strict safety protocols: “Tourists will be welcome if, before travel, they are either vaccinated or have antibodies or test negative.”
Still, each country will have its own rules on international travel and Theoharis emphasized, “I stress that these are indicative dates provided for guidance.”
Restrictions can change quickly in the ongoing circumstances but hopefully, that dream Greek summer may finally be within your reach.
How Will It Work?
All international travelers will be required to provide a negative PCR COVID-19 test that was taken within 72 hours of traveling. Alternatively, travelers can use documentation to prove they have been vaccinated, or provide proof of antibodies against the virus if they have recently recovered.
Additionally, all tourists that enter Greece will be subject to random testing, just like last year. “An important difference this year is that we can use rapid tests,” Theoharis said, as he addressed the virtual ITB Berlin trade show from the Athens Acropolis Museum. If a traveler tests positive, they will need to isolate immediately.
So, What Can You Do There?
The government is aiming to gradually lift Greece’s restrictions by May 14, in accordance with health considerations—“if conditions allow,” Theoharis said. The hope is to open up all destinations, including islands, major hotels, sites, museums, and restaurants.
Of course, while the pandemic continues, general restrictions will be in place throughout Greece that apply to tourists and citizens. Expect mandatory mask-wearing in public places and throughout travel journeys, and social-distancing measures.
Last year saw a cap on tourist numbers at sites and museums, a ban on large gatherings and indoor dining, restaurant curfews, and a limited number of beach sun loungers. All of these regulations may come in this year, too. Those announcements have yet to be made.
The rules regarding ferries are expected to be announced in mid-April. Last summer, domestic ferry travel within Greece—a great way to hop between islands—was permitted, requiring all passengers to wear masks, social distance, and complete a health status questionnaire before boarding. This year’s rules could be similar.
Pre-pandemic, domestic flights were available for travel between some major Greek destinations like Athens, Thessaloniki, Santorini, Mykonos, Crete, and Rhodes. These were banned for all but essential travel during Greece’s lockdown but, like ferry travel, they may resume in time for the arrival of tourists, presumably with strict protocols yet to be announced.
Greece has faced lockdowns and restrictions throughout 2020 and 2021 due to rises in COVID-19 cases. However, the number of deaths from coronavirus is currently significantly lower than many other EU countries.
Their vaccination program is increasing and the government has announced they’ll prioritize the vaccination of people working in the tourism industry, as soon as the most vulnerable are vaccinated. They are also mandating the frequent testing of employees “in order to provide both safety and peace of mind,” Theoharis said, and they hope to prioritize the vaccination of all citizens of some small islands to create the safest possible destinations.
The Tourism Minister confirmed that all health needs related to COVID-19, including hospitalization, will be provided by the Greek state at no cost to tourists. This rule was in place during last year’s summer season.
“Today, one can add to the incomparable advantages of Greece as a tourist destination, its commitment to offer and guarantee the health and safety of each and every tourist,’ Theoharis said.
While Greece is always the perfect destination for tourists, with its exciting cities and idyllic islands, tourists are important to Greece, too. A fifth of Greece’s economy comes from tourism, while one in five citizens work in the tourism industry. In 2019, Greece’s tourism sector contributed 20.8% to the nation’s overall GDP, according to data from the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC).
The WTTC and its members praised the Greek government’s efforts to reopen tourism safely. “This clear roadmap to recovery could reopen the door to a bumper summer of travel for sun-starved holidaymakers looking to get away to Greece and provide a significant boost to the country’s economy,” President and CEO Gloria Guevara said.
Greece could lead by example for travel, too, with Guevara adding, “We strongly believe that the Greek roadmap shows the practical way forward for other countries to encourage the return of safe travels, as vaccine rollouts gain momentum to return the world’s mobility to get the globe moving again.”
“All You Want is Greece.”
Though things could of course change, the future is looking positive for Greece and those dreaming of its glistening landscape. Emirates has announced a new route connecting New York to Athens. Ryanair is opening three new bases on Greek islands Corfu, Rhodes, and Crete for summer 2021, plus new routes from Italy and Ireland. Due to high demand, Air France is adding new routes to its summer 2021 Greece flight program. And Greece itself has updated some of its airports for smoother traveler transitions.
Theoharis said, “Dear friends, we are approaching the exit from this dark tunnel thanks to the power of the human spirit and the progress of science. Please, allow me to emphasize that no image could better portray the return to the normality of tourism than the Greek smile, the Greek landscape, and the Greek hospitality. Regarding 2021 in Greece, we are more than optimistic. We are ready. We are ready to share the experience of liberation from the unpleasant memories of the pandemic with each and every one of our guests.”
In words that fill us with hope for a joy-filled future of travel, Theoharis said, “This year and forever, all you want is Greece. To put a smile on your face once again, in the hope that you will get your life back, all you want is Greece.”
Yamas to that!