Greece prepared to welcome tourist flights to its island destinations on Wednesday for the first time in months, as it raced to salvage a tourism season shredded by the coronavirus pandemic.
More than 100 flights from other EU nations and a select group of non-EU countries are expected at 14 regional airports including Corfu, Santorini, Mykonos, Rhodes and Crete, airport operator Fraport said.
Flights from Britain, one of its most lucrative travel markets, are not due to restart until July 15 at the earliest, in line with EU recommendations. The same applies to the United States, Russia, Turkey and Sweden.
Greece halted most flights three months ago as part of restrictions aimed at stopping the spread of coronavirus, but the measures have seen the sector’s revenues plummet.
All Greek airports are now receiving international flights and the ports of Patras and Igoumentsa will again receive ferries from Italy.
Fourteen non-EU countries — including Australia, Canada, Japan and Uruguay — have been deemed safe enough for visitors to be allowed back.
But travellers from China, where the virus first emerged late last year, will be allowed to enter only if Beijing reciprocates and opens the door to EU residents.
Travellers will be given scannable bar codes after they fill out a questionnaire with personal details such as their country of origin and the countries they have travelled through in the last 15 days.
Those who are tested will be told to isolate at the address provided on the questionnaire while waiting for the results.
“It will be a very difficult tourism season. We will do the best we can,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told the cabinet this week.
Greece, which has a relatively low coronavirus death toll under 200, has launched a promotional campaign to revive tourism, which accounts for a quarter of its gross domestic product.
The country hopes to reassure potential travellers as well as Greeks, who fear a resurgence of the pandemic with the return of tourists.
Tourism Minister Harry Theoharis on Tuesday signed an agreement with German tour giant TUI aiming to bring in some 1.5 million tourists — 50 percent of the number the agent brought to Greece in 2019.
“We’re trying to save the season,” Amelia Vlachou, a jewellery shop owner on Corfu, told AFP.
“Of course it doesn’t compare with previous years when we had lots of people.”
According to Bank of Greece figures, the country in 2019 had more than 34 million visitors who spent over 18 billion euros.
Operators say a realistic revenue goal this year is up to five billion euros.
On land border crossings, travellers from Albania, North Macedonia and Turkey are only allowed in for emergency reasons or by special permission.