Americans have been a major part of summer tourism in Greece in past decades. Although they may not make up the largest contingent of visitors, they spend more than most others — and that was noticed last year.
The difficult Summer of 2020 meant far fewer travelers from nearly everywhere in the world, as weak after week and month after month went by without Greece allowing Americans to visit the country.
Despite the UK having far more coronavirus infections and deaths that the US per capita, no Americans were allowed to visit the country except those who held a Greek passport.
That kept millions of Americans on US shores last summer as they put their European vacation dreams on the back burner for another year.
Hope is in the air
So where do we stand today, as the vaccination programs continue to roll out and many in the US are beginning to dare to dream of vacationing once again? What are the realistic prospects for jetting off to Greece in a few short months?
More than 66 million vaccination doses have been administered to Americans as of today, reaching 13.6% of the total U.S. population, according to federal data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The U.S. is currently administering over 1.4 million inoculations each day, leading many to hope that real inroads are being made against the virus. Hope is in the air.
2020 was Catastrophic year for tourism in Greece
Last year of course was a catastrophe for Greek tourism, with the loss in revenues reflected in a 4% drop in the entire country’s GDP. Tourism directly employs one out of every five people in Greece — and many more indirectly.
Although UK citizens were eventually allowed into the country, many who would otherwise have come to the Greek destinations they flock to annually stayed home last year. Whether because of the quarantine restrictions or fears of becoming infected while traveling, the numbers did not pan out well last year.
Russia, another main source of tourism revenues for Greece, was also not allowed to send any of its citizens to Hellenic shores last year due to the high rate of coronavirus infections there. The drop in visitation from these three countries alone meant devastation for many in the tourist industry in Greece.
All the nations belonging to the EU’s Schengen Zone, including Greece, are still barring most Americans from entering.
Flight bookings rising at record pace
However, there is light on the horizon. Flights are being scheduled for the Summer as we speak.
The British/German travel giant EasyJet stated last week that advance bookings for some of its Greek flights were up an eye-popping 600%.
American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Emirates and United Airlines have begun opening up their flights to bookings as early as April 30.
While this may be a tad optimistic, it may be technically possible for some Americans to leave the country at that time, since may older people will have had both doses of a coronavirus vaccine by then.
EU leaders are meeting today to discuss the creation of a vaccine passport or vaccine certificate — heavily promoted by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis for months as a way to safely reopen the tourist gates after the pandemic.
Global vaccine certificate system?
Whether or not this certificate, even if created, will be globally accepted is another question.
France and Germany have noted their unease with the certificate system, saying it will create inequities since some will be unable to acquire vaccinations in time for Summer.
It appears now that, by June 3, there will be a total of at least seven nonstop flights from the United States to Athens — not too shabby considering the near-total travel lockdown of last year.
Of course, this can change in an instant if Americans are not allowed to leave the country or barred from specific destinations.
- From Newark, service will begin on April 30 for United Airlines and Emirates on June 1
- From JFK Airport, service will begin on May 1 for Delta Air Lines and June 3 for American Air Lines. Delta will fly every other day from JFK beginning May 27
- From Philadelphia, service will begin on June 3 for American Airlines
- From Chicago, American Airlines will begin their Athens service on June 3
Naturally, it could happen that, just as last summer, the only US residents who hold Greek passports will be allowed to enter the country. But the reopening of the ticketing process gives potential travelers hope that things truly will be different this year.
At the present time, Greek hoteliers have stated that they are not planning on requiring that guests be vaccinated before their stays.
However, like last year, you may be required to present proof that you have tested negative just prior to boarding and perhaps again after landing at your destination.
Greece moves unilaterally to reopen tourism
In the past, Greece has demonstrated a willingness to take the bull by the horns and make its own moves to welcome tourists, as seen by its recent deal with Israel to open a quarantine-free travel corridor using a digital vaccine certificate system, which Greece has already created.
To begin in April of 2021, this may act as a trial balloon for future vaccine certificate and travel corridor options for the rest of the EU.
As Prime Minister Mitsotakis said earlier this month, “It would be good to achieve this on a European level, to be united. If this doesn’t happen, we will proceed bilaterally with all the countries that interest us.”
Some travel experts say that since Greece has taken such measures already, opening up to the UAE as well — which is also not approved by the EU — that may bode well for Americans’ prospects to make it to Greece this Summer.
And parenthetically — this would also make it theoretically possible to get into Greece via the UAE, which will begin its nonstop flights to Athens on June 1.
Greece still reeling from virus
However, clouds are still on the horizon since Greece itself is still reeling from spikes in coronavirus infections, with the Attica region still in strict lockdown.
With March almost here, it is difficult to believe right now that it would be possible for foreign tourists to visit Greece in the early Spring.
The Greek retail sector is poised to reopen on March 8 — granted there is no further worsening of the situation.
Restaurants and cafes are of course closed at the moment, without being able to even carry on curbside service.
With this in mind, it may be prudent to start thinking about planning a late Summer or early Autumn trip to Greece. It is cooler at that time as well and of course just as stunningly beautiful.
Eyes on the bottom line
Greece will be grateful to have Americans back if they have their eyes on the bottom line because US residents traveling there spend much more on average than most other tourists.
Arrivals to Greece from the US grew at a staggering pace in the last decade, with Americans doubling their numbers during the period 2008-2018, from 613,000 to 1.1 million.
According to data supplied by INSETE, the Confederation of Greek Tourism, Americans spent a whopping 1 billion euros in 2018, with overnight stays numbering 11.7 million in Greece that year.
The number of arrivals from the US grew 26.9 percent in 2018 over the previous year as well.
And in 2019, the figures were just as impressive, leading experts to believe the interest in traveling to Greece will remain high.
According to figures published by the Bank of Greece, revenues from American tourists in Greece during the first quarter of 2019 went up by a whopping 118.9 percent compared to the first quarter of 2018 – which in itself of course set records.
Tourists from the United States now come in second, only after the Germans, in absolute terms of the amount of money they spend in Greece.