A a fresh wind is blowing over Adrianou. Sitting in front of his carpet store on the street that runs through the heart of ancient Athens, Theo Iliadis watches the scene. At 47, he has seen “a lot of bad things” in recent years. The global pandemic could not have come at a worse time for Greece, already ravaged by a protracted economic crisis.
But barely a month after the tourism-dependent country opened, the entrepreneur is in a hot mood. There is a glint in his eyes and a lightness in the air of the carpeted cave behind him. âThe Americans are in town,â he smiles. âBusiness is good, the loom is good, and I have drinks on ice. “
Iliadis has every reason to be happy. American tourists don’t think, he says, of spending “up to $ 15,000” on old tribal rugs, rugs and kilims. âThey appreciate handcrafted work and are big spenders. “
Confusing predictions, Greece is experiencing a recovery in its heaviest industry – tourism – thanks to an unexpected increase in the number of visitors from the United States. Few would have predicted it around this time last year when lockdowns made Europe a distant dream, but in the shadow of the Acropolis last week, it was the Americans who profited from the resolve Athens to kick off the season.
âI’ve been coming here for years, but there has never been a direct flight from Chicago,â says Carin Silkaitis, who heads the drama department at Columbia College in Chicago. “When I saw him online I said, ‘Here we go,'” she enthused, savoring a glass of local Iliadis firewater – a drink he describes. with fun like “tiger’s milk” – after venturing into the store. “It was a huge and very full plane – everyone wants to travel after being locked up for so long.”
To meet demand, more direct daily flights to Greece from the United States were inaugurated than at any time. Greek Tourism Minister Haris Theoharis said 10 airlines, including nine US carriers, are adding Athens to their travel schedules as vaccination deployments lead to a rebound in commercial air travel.
Theoharis describes the US recovery as huge compared to other parts of Europe, calling it a reward for a tourism revival based as much on the country’s relatively successful handling of Covid-19 as on strategic planning. With a total of 413,000 coronavirus cases to date, infection rates have been lower than most other parts of the continent.
âWe called Greece a safe destination and said we would open on May 14,â he said. âWe haven’t changed the dates. It was unequivocal. The message was clear. “
US-Greek relations have never been so good, diplomatically or militarily, which has further strengthened cooperation. Theoharis himself has spent much of the past six months on a plane as part of an aggressive bid to promote Greece by a pro-business government fully aware of the sector’s phenomenal contribution to GDP. With more than 20% of national expenditure, tourism represents one in five jobs.
The decision to launch so many non-stop flights to Athens follows trips to Atlanta, Chicago and Dallas, hub cities for airlines that now have the Greek capital on their route schedule. âOver 40% of all seats on these flights have already been sold. Recovery is around 50% [in the American market] over 2019, âhe said, referring to the last pre-pandemic year when the Mediterranean hotspot attracted a record 33.1 million visitors. Of these, over three million were holidaymakers from the UK.
In Greece to celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary, Silkaitis and his wife, Chrissy, have a typical itinerary for many of their compatriots. After Athens, they will head to Nafplio, the picturesque Peloponnese town, before visiting the ever popular Cycladic islands of Naxos and Santorini. âWe had thought of going to London, but Greece made it so much easier for us,â says the red-haired professor, an actor by profession.
âIn England we had to quarantine and pass tests. For Greece, we were told that if you can prove that you are fully vaccinated and fill out the form [countryâs] passenger locator form, you will be free to enter. And it was exactly as the Greek Consulate in Chicago said, âshe said, snapping her fingers. âAfter a nine and a half hour flight, we were in Athens. Everyone was so helpful. There were several lanes at the airport, we showed them the forms and rushed out.
The couple make no secret that consulate officials also encouraged them to travel, saying, âGreece needs you, the economy needs you, spend, spend, spend.
Theoharis concedes that without arrivals from Britain, the country’s main source market after Germany, Athens will still struggle to save the season. “There is no way without the UK market that this could even be a mixed success,” he sighs, adding that with the cases of Covid having “dropped dramatically”, it was hoped that the destination would be on the orange list would soon be put on the London no quarantine list.
Yet it is “the American factor” upon which even the smallest Greek hotels depend this year. In the hills outside Napflion, the owners of Perivoli, a country retreat nestled between olive groves and rugged hills, say they’ve had more bookings than at any time from the United States . Reservations have even arrived for November from visitors keen to see Mycenae and other archaeological sites near the hotel. âAmericans are heaven for us,â says Alekos Kastrinos, one of the co-owners, listing attributes that include friendliness, openness and a propensity to tip generously.
âThey are welcome in our country. They will leave their money and it will be very useful to us after this disastrous coronavirus and the economic crisis. They are a godsend.