Friday 19 January 2018

Greek Tourist Advice: Cash still king and credit cards may be politely declined


Tourists should check the plastic policy before they dine
Tourists should check the plastic policy before they dine

Eoghan Corry

Beware of Greeks bringing reassurances: they may not be all they seem.

ATMs are NOT running out of cash and credit cards are still being accepted, deputy tourism minister Elena Kountoura said this week.

All of this is true, in theory, but on the ground local shops, bars and restaurants are using tourists to keep cash flowing.

Tourists should check the plastic policy before they dine: there is a precedent from Cyprus in 2013 that merchants may be worried about money going into their bank account (where they are unable to access it) and turn down credit and debit cards.

When credit cards are accepted, they can be subject to extra charges.

ATMs are well stocked. While the week began with reports that 35pc of the ATM network ran out of euro banknotes at one point during the weekend, with 500 of Greece's 7,000 ATMs clean out of cash, that is only part of the story.

ATMs are being restocked as fast as they empty and banks are working with the central bank to keep the network fed.

Replenishing ATMs usually takes one to two hours per ATM, leading to those pictures of long queues that we saw on social media this week.

Tourists have been told to contact their bank, advice that is worse than useless. None of the banks seem to have any information about what is happening.

Bringing extra cash is the standard advice, including from the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan says we should take more than one means of payment with us (cash, debit card, credit card) and says credit card processing and servicing of ATMs in Greece could "become limited at short notice".

He didn't want to shout stop, but that's what he means.

It is worth checking the small print of your travel insurance policy: most cover only €250 cash.

If you are funding a week's incidentals - remember that a meal for four including drinks costs an average of €50 in Crete and €66 in Corfu - €1,000 should suffice for a week's spend. Keep it in a money belt inside your shirt for security - the light-fingered have noticed tourists carrying more cash.

Out of the chaos comes some good news. Tourists visiting the Acropolis can now pay the €12 admission fee by credit card for the first time since Monday.

Elsewhere, although the Tunisian charter programme was pulled on Wednesday - tomorrow's Monastir flight brings the season to a premature end - we are still allowed to go to Tunisia on holidays.

The Government's advice is to exercise extreme caution (whatever that means) rather than telling people not to go.

A blanket ban has dire consequences; it means that travel insurance does not cover those who go. Ireland was quick to impose blanket bans in the past on both Tunisia and Egypt: the more recent restraint is a wiser policy.

Sadly, the Wahhabist attacks on tourists across the Middle East are unlikely to stop. The publicity generated and damage to the Tunisian and Egyptian tourist industry means that the militants are achieving their goals.

It has been a bad week for tourists, tour operators and tourist boards with many people's holiday plans in ruins. The upside is that you can expect bargain offers to both Greece and (if you can get there) Tunisia for later in the season.

Irish Independent

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