Greek tourism put to the test by debt crisis | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 19.05.2010
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Greek tourism put to the test by debt crisis

Tourism is an important part of the Greek economy, but with strikes, a debt crisis and the falling euro, can the nation still count on the usual load of summer tourists?

A tourist walks at the Acropolis next to ancient Parthenon temple

If the summer tourist season goes poorly, Greece could be in even worse shape come winter

More than 16 million tourists visit Greece each year, contributing 15 percent to the nation's gross domestic product. But in the face of the financial crisis, violent protests and strikes in Athens, a declining euro and the looming threat of the volcanic ash cloud, many tourists may think twice before buying their ticket to Athens.

Manfred Radigewski is hoping they won't. Radigewski has been running a travel agency in the western German town of Siegburg for 38 years, and he says that while people are still booking trips to Greece, the number of bookings is not as high as it used to be.

"There is some hesitation," said Radigewski. "When people see the pictures on TV, what's going on in Athens, they tend to think Athens is all of Greece. And then they are afraid to fly to Crete, or even to Rhodes."

According to the Reuters news agency, some 27,000 overnight stays were cancelled in Athens hotels after the May 5 protests, a massive blow to an economy that is already struggling.

A fire bomb thrown by protesters burns in central Athens

Protests against austerity measures in Greece turned violent

Tensions with Germany

The strikes and protests in Athens aren't the only thing keeping tourists at home. Germany funded about a third of the 80-billion-euro ($98.9 billion) EU bailout for Greece. The bailout was deeply unpopular among Germans, and likely cost Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats a key state election. Many Germans weren't afraid to voice anti-Greek sentiments.

"Some people are scared, scared that the people will say, 'Why are you so angry at us,' or they are even afraid to be attacked," Radigewski told Deutsche Welle.

However, Radigewski said these fears are unfounded.

"The people in Crete or Rhodes are waiting for tourists - that is their livelihood. They have no reason do anything against tourists," he said.

Deals to be had

The falling value of the euro may make Greece a more attractive destination to tourists from North America. However, the National Statistical Service of Greece estimates that over 90 percent of travelers to Greece are European tourists - visitors who are likely see the falling euro currency as one more reason to clutch their wallets a little tighter.

A beach in Greece

Visitors may be lured away from Greece by other sunny destinations

Still, because of the general hesitancy to travel, airlines have had to drop prices to fill planes. That means good deals for customers, said Wolfgang Brack, a booking specialist for an online travel agency that specializes in trips to the island of Crete.

"The prices for travel packages have sunk, because the flights have gotten cheaper," Brack told Deutsche Welle. "The prices of flights to Greece are about 30 percent lower right now than usual in May and June."

In Greece, hotel and restaurant owners are no doubt hoping that the lower flight prices are enough to bring tourists back for the summer season, traditionally May through September. The sooner tourism picks up, the better it will be for the Greek economy - and for the eurozone as a whole.

Author: Sarah Harman
Editor: Martin Kuebler

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