Greece Divvying Up Tourism Recovery Funds Before COVID-19 Is Done

Greek tourism stakeholders met earlier this week via teleconference to mull over the best ways to tap into €27.5 billion euros in EU rescue funding. According to the reports, the tourism ministry will present a final proposal in line with the Pissarides committee growth plan tabled earlier this month. But the full scope of damage by the pandemic is yet to be known?

Greece needs to rekindle investment, work to integrate technology, upgrade its infrastructure, and dive into sustainable tourism efforts in the post-COVID-19 weeks, months, and years. Deputy Tourism Minister Manos Konsolas was cited by GTP and others referring to seasonality, the concentration of tourist activity in certain regions, and lack of diversification as key problems Greece faces:

“We’re already making plans for the next day so that tourism can have a greater growth impetus… We have the opportunity to formulate a new model of tourism development and mainly to address problem areas.”

The teleconference was attended by representatives of tourism bodies including the Greek Tourism Confederation (SETE), the Hellenic Chamber of Hotels, the Hellenic Hotel Federation (POX), the Hellenic Association of Professional Congress Organizers (HAPCO), the Hellenic Association of Travel & Tourist Agencies (HATTA) and the Association of Passenger Shipping Companies (SEEN), among others.

The meetup stands in contrast to a looming Greek economic situation that will likely be far worse than many of these experts predicted. This is evidenced by a recent comment to Kathimerini by the president of the Greek Tourism Confederation (SETE), Yiannis Retsos. The SETE chief told the media his organization thought back in May that the industry would lose 75-80% of its revenue because of the pandemic. Now Retsos says the revenue estimate below 20%, between €3-3.5 billion.

The coronavirus is just not done with Greece, the EU, and the world yet. This is a reality a great many experts seem to be overlooking. Planning for a sustainable Greece tourism effort with a pandemic still gripping the continent, it seems like scheduling the next cruise of the RMS Titanic as the ship is slipping beneath the surface of the sea. Right now British officials are about to put Greece on Britain’s two-week quarantine list after an alarming surge in coronavirus cases. Lithuania has already put Greece on the quarantine list. And the Athens officials are divvying up a huge tranch of EU money before anybody knows the ends of a crisis?

This report from Deutsche Welle tells the real story of the pandemic and the future of Greece tourism. Despite all the good efforts of Prime Minister Mitsotakis and his colleagues, the Greek leadership has no control whatsoever over the travel habits of foreigners, nor any leverage on foreign regulations. The DW piece focuses on Santorini, where businesses have already written off 2020. Take the sustainability issue, as a guidepoint here. One hotelier on the island suggests a big “rethink” for Santorini, one where the economy becomes more focused on agriculture and other potential.

Many Greece stakeholders seem focused on a return to the status quo once COVID-19 is done with Greece and the world. They are using old definitions and numbers to determine strategies for a future that is still uncertain. I see no real effort at scenario planning, at contingencies, or forward-thinking with regard to alternative tourism/economy modeling. It will be interesting to see how these stakeholders decide to allocate these funds.