(Bloomberg) — Greece is gearing up for a tourism season that is nearly back to pre-Covid levels, as airlines pile up flights and people hungry to travel shake off inflation and other deterrents.
Demand is resilient in Britain and Germany, the biggest source markets for visits to Greece, while the Scandinavian countries will generate a lot of traffic, Tourism Minister Vasilis Kikilias said in an interview in Athens.
British Airways, Ryanair Holdings Plc, EasyJet Plc and Jet2 Plc are looking for more flights than in 2019, when tourist numbers hit the record 31 million, and Air France and its Transavia arm will have a strong presence, Kikilias said.
There is also an influx of long-haul travelers, with the big three U.S. airlines carrying about 3,000 people a week from Atlanta, Chicago, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, many bound for Greek cruise ships. Direct flights from Canada will begin on April 2 and visits from Australia are hitting record highs, while Qatar Airways seeks flights to islands such as Mykonos and Santorini.
“There is a real competition going on for airlines to find slots at Greek airports, both for the islands and for Athens,” said Kikilias.
Tourism accounted for a fifth of the Greek economy before Covid-19 turned travel on its head. Revenues from visiting vacationers last year amounted to 60% of 2019’s 18 billion euros ($20 billion). The government estimated the recovery could reach 80% this year in a forecast released just before the Russian attack on Ukraine.
While new sales stalled immediately after the invasion, there were almost no cancellations except from Russians representing a small number of visitors, and bookings are gaining ground from April, Kikilias said.
The cessation of Chinese travel amid ongoing pandemic curbs could ease in the second half, the minister said, citing insight from the Chinese ambassador to Greece.
The government is hopeful that the 2022 tourist season will help its efforts to boost visitor spending, Kikilias said, following progress last year when the average figure rose from €520 to €600.
“Our strategy is no longer about the number of visitors, but about upgrading to a higher quality tourism product that will bring more revenue,” he said.
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