Greece wants to welcome tourists this summer, as it has done for 50 years and more, but will continue to take precautions and show leadership in its management of the coronavirus pandemic, imposing rules so that everyone can feel safe “as far as is humanly possible,” Tourism Minister Harry Theoharis said in an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Justin Webb on Wednesday.
“The issue that is really very very important as we start thinking of the way out of the crisis… and restarting the engines of the economy is how to allow travel and how to do this in a responsible way. Everyone, and of course Greece, which has shown leadership in the way that we dealt with this crisis, will want to continue doing so as we take the risk of opening parts and sectors of the economy,” he said, when asked what plan he would like to see tourism ministers adopt.
The minister also made it clear that Greece wanted people to visit during this summer:
“Yes, we do want people to come to Greece. Of course we will take precautions in terms of the requirements before travelling but also in terms of the way that we travel, the way that we stay, on the beaches etc.. social distancing rules will apply but we have welcomed tourists for more than 50 years, we want to continue showing the kind of hospitality that we are very much known for.”
Asked whether he could reassure British tourists who have either booked holidays or are still planning to come to Greece whether they will be safe, Theoharis again highlighted the fact that Greece had shown leadership with respect to the medical side of the crisis.
“…we have a much, much flatter curve than any other country in Europe and perhaps in most other countries of the world. So we will not change tactics as far as that is concerned. We will continue taking very very important precautions but do so while still allowing economic activity to continue,” he noted, adding that “Greece is a safe country and in many cases much safer – I am sorry to say – than your own country.”
When questioned whether the measures will include a requirement for a negative test for coronavirus before travelling, Theoharis confirmed that this was one of the ideas being discussed with Greek epidemiology experts, though nothing has been decided yet, and that it was very likely that there will be some requirements before travel.
“Of course, this will be done so that everyone has peace of mind when they travel and when they are staying abroad that they will not come in contact, as much as is humanly possible, with other people infected with the virus,” he said.
The Greek government was hoping, the minister added, that better, more precise and cheaper tests will be available by the time the tourist season opens, which was likely to be a great deal later than normal this year.
With respect to warnings from airlines that social distancing on planes would be economically unworkable, Theoharis said that this was an additional reason for stricter rules prior and during travel, to allow for greater flexibility. He noted that some called for the same rules that apply to public transport to also apply to air travel.
He confirmed that this might involve face masks and keeping distances, rather than fewer passengers on planes.
“Without going into details, in the sense that the experts will come up with the suggestions and the proposals, this is one of the ways to fix this,” the minister said.
Asked what will happen if it’s not “fixed” and about the repercussions for Greece, he agreed that they will be huge, not just for Greece but for all of Europe:
“Tourism is 10 pct of the whole European GDP, Europe is the most touristically developed region of the world. It’s very very important and, of course, there are a number of other industries that depend on tourism…so this is an issue that is not just for the economies of the South but is really about Europe as a whole.” he replied.