In theory Greece is almost back to ‘normal’ in terms of the businesses that are allowed to operate. The children are back in school and parents are back at work. The all-year-round hotels are open and the international/tourist/seasonal ones can reopen on 15 June. We can go to cafes, bars, restaurants and the beach. All of the above, of course, with various regulations and social distancing requirements.
In practice the picture on Symi and various other places where the economy is entirely tourism driven is quite different. When there are no tourists, there are no customers. The sunbeds and umbrellas may be at the decreed spacing and the taverna menus on display but without tourists they remain empty. Aside from people working in two banks, the post office and the power station, just about everyone else has been out of work since last October so there is no money to spend on outings and treats. The island’s core economy currently seems to be dependent on the resident expat pensioners whose income, at least so far, has remained stable, but there is a limit to even their capacity for drinks in the square and coffees in the cafes.
International tourism in Greece only starts officially on 15 June and then only from a list of countries with low levels of infection. All these flights have to come through Athens as direct international flights to the islands only start on 1 July. People can come from other places but they are then subject to quarantine which means that if you want to come to Greece on holiday you may spend the first 7 or 14 days, depending on whether you test negative or positive for Covid-19 on arrival, in quarantine. That could mean a week or two in a room in a quarantine hotel in Athens or unable to leave your accommodation elsewhere if you are allowed to continue your journey to your end destination. That doesn’t help tourism much but it is A Good Thing for people who need to get to Greece to take up contracts for work, are employed in seasonal work, have houses here and intend to spend months or years in Greece.
Unfortunately everyone’s fears about the wisdom of international travel were confirmed when a Qatar Air flight from Doha arrived in Athens on Monday and out of the 91 passengers on board, 12 of them tested positive for the virus. Three of these, two Australian Greeks and one Japanese Greek, were technically from countries that are on Greece’s approved flight list and if they had come into the country after 15 June may well have only had random spot testing rather than the full blown test-and-quarantine-everybody policy that is currently in place. Needless to say, Qatar flights from Doha have been suspended until 15 June while the powers that be decide how to hack this one.
As most UK airports are on the black list and in any case the British Foreign Office is still advising against non-essential travel, Symi’s usual British travellers are not allowed to travel. As they are the dominant groups in May, June, September and October, that is already a large chunk of the island’s income gone. The Australians are trapped by their own government for the foreseeable future so no diaspora Greeks coming to visit family this summer. The Danes are on the approved list but their government won’t allow them out until 31 August. The French, another nationality that plays a major part in Symi’s summer tourism, are also still waiting to be allowed out of France (by their government) and into Greece. Ditto the Italians, the Spaniards and so on.
Do you book in the hope that you may be allowed to travel or do you wait to see what happens? As airlines are also in a quandary, flights booked get cancelled or rescheduled as passengers are too few to cover costs so it all becomes self perpetuating. Then there are all those people who are still trying to get refunds, vouchers and what have you for flights and holidays over March, April, May and June that have been cancelled. Do they feel strong enough to go through it all again? Better wait until next year when everything has calmed down…
With so many uncertainties many of Symi’s regular visitors, including property owners, have had to cancel their plans, particularly if they have children and are tied to school holidays. If they have to take a ‘staycation’ within their home country’s borders, they need to book now before all the best places are gone.
The motto for this year seems to be ‘we shall see’.