Saturday 23 September 2017

Germans add to Greek woe by cancelling holidays

Helena Smith in Athens and Kate Connolly in Berlin

Every May, coaches carrying German tourists would cruise up the long winding road that leads from Pyrgos to ancient Olympia. There they would decant in droves, a permanent fixture in the tavernas, bars and shops that line the Peloponnesian town's cobbled thoroughfare. But things have changed.

"They're just not coming," says Dimitris Tyligadas, a local hotelier. "And if they do, they kind of look at us through half-closed eyes, as if they don't really trust us."

Olympia is not alone. The German reaction to the economic crisis engulfing Greece has been to stay away. In the 10 days after the inconclusive election on May 6, an extraordinary 50,000 bookings were cancelled.

Most were Germans fearing the consequences of being seen as the source of the austerity regime enforced in return for EU-IMF rescue loans to prop up Greece's moribund economy.

"The drop was considerable," said Andreas Andreadis, president of the Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises, adding: "We estimate that German arrivals will be down by about 25 per cent by the end of the year."

Close to four million Germans visit each year -- more than from any other EU member state. For a country that depends on tourism, with one in five working in the sector, their absence could have a devastating effect -- and never more so than now.

Earlier this year, Athenian newspapers were full of reports of Germans "fearing for their lives" if they visited Greece. Violent street protests, peaking with the burning of the German flag outside the Greek parliament in February, at the height of the booking season, spurred the first wave of cancellations.

According to a poll by the Foundation for Future Studies, only 1.1 per cent of Germans are planning a holiday in Greece this summer, a drop of almost a half since last year, and of two-thirds since the start of the crisis in 2009.

Ironically, Greece could not be quieter, less strike-plagued or better value for money. Walkouts that saw thousands of tourists being stranded at harbours and airports last year have dropped.

"We don't have plans to stage any strikes until September, although much will depend on whether the new government chooses to continue with these barbaric austerity measures that Merkel is demanding," said Ilias Iliopoulos at the civil servants' union.

Even Athens, the focus of fiery demonstrations since Europe's debt crisis erupted, has calmed down.

"Last year in April and May there were 54 strikes, according to the public order ministry. This year there have only been four," said Andreadis.

"And precisely because of the crisis Greece is the best value it's ever been for the last decade. To re-energise demand we have reduced rates dramatically and have far better offers compared with Italy, Spain, Turkey and Portugal."

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