Greece banking on bumper summer as airlines battle to add flights

Greece is bracing for a tourist season nearly back to pre-Covid levels as airlines pile up flights and travel-starved people ignore inflation and other deterrents.

Demand is resilient in Britain and Germany, the main source markets for visits to Greece, while the Nordic countries will produce significant traffic, Tourism Minister Vasilis Kikilias said in an interview in Athens.

British Airways, Ryanair Holdings Plc, EasyJet Plc and Jet2 Plc are seeking more flights than in 2019, when tourist numbers hit a record 31 million, and Air France and its Transavia branch will have a strong presence, Kikilias said.

There is also an influx of long-haul travellers, with the three major US airlines flying around 3,000 people a week from Atlanta, Chicago, Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, many of whom are heading to Greek cruise ships. Direct flights from Canada begin April 2 and visits from Australia are expected to hit a record high, while Qatar Airways is seeking 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,” Kikilias said.

Tourism accounted for a fifth of Greece’s economy before Covid-19 disrupted travel. Last year, revenue from visiting holidaymakers reached 60% of 2019’s 18 billion euros ($20 billion). The government estimated the rebound could reach 80% this year in a forecast released just before Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

While new sales stagnated immediately after the invasion, there were virtually no cancellations except for Russians representing small numbers of visitors, and from April bookings are gaining ground, a said Kikilias.

The halt in Chinese travel amid lingering pandemic curbs may ease in the second half of the year, the minister said, citing information from China’s ambassador to Greece.

The government hopes the 2022 tourist season will help it push forward its efforts to boost visitor spending, Kikilias said, after progress made last year as the average figure rose from 520 euros to 600 euros.

“Our strategy is no longer so much about the number of visitors as about upgrading to a higher quality tourism product that will generate more revenue,” he said.

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