TThe narrow, cobbled alleys of the traditional Santorini town of Oia are often crowded with tourists even at this time of year. The Greek island with the world’s most famous sunset view is always a top travel destination. But COVID-19 halted the growing popularity of the Greek islands in 2020, and while the warm Mediterranean climate means that the tourist season in Greece generally begins in early April and lasts until the end of October, the streets are relatively quiet.
However, with worldwide vaccination and the convenience of rapid tests, Greece is opening up to international travelers on May 14, after nearly a year, and hopes to regain its past success. And business owners on two of its most famous islands, Santorini and Mykonos, expect the reopening to be spectacular.
Giorgos Dimitrokalis wakes up every day looking at the magnificent view of the caldera, and although he was born and raised in Santorini, this view of the Aegean Sea never ceases to amaze him. But for the owner of KD Hotels and Resorts and vice president of the Santorini Hoteliers Association, it’s hard to be the only one to enjoy this view. “It feels like a completely different island. Unrecognizable. Last year we joked that the locals had the opportunity to enjoy the island for themselves. I hope that this summer things will go back to the way they were before the pandemic, because the island has really suffered. “
Unlike other places in Greece, islands like Santorini and Mykonos base most of their economy on tourism. In 2019, tourism accounted for just over 20 percent of the country’s overall economy, according to the Institute of the Greek Tourism Confederation. It was the best year in a decade.
And then came the coronavirus.
“It was summer outside, but the people in the streets were as much as if it were winter. There wasn’t even a soul out there. It was surreal, ”says Poly Linoxylaki, owner of the Sand Lily boutique in Imerovigli in Santorini.
Desperate not to waste another year, Greek Tourism Minister Harry Theoharis recently announced that the government will reopen tourism in Greece from May 14.
There are two types of tourists who visit Santorini, explains Dimitrokalis, owner of 10 hotels across the island: “In hotels that are close to the beach, we have seen increased interest so far this year. Our clients stay there for about seven days, they are usually families and mostly Europeans. In the more central hotels, such as those in Caldera and Fyra, it is usually travelers who come from abroad, such as Americans, Brazilians, Chinese and Australians, and they do not usually stay more than three days. They come to see the island, they admire the sunset and they leave ”.
Beast Travel Digest
Get the whole world in your inbox.
For Embark Beyond, a New York-based luxury travel advisory firm, “Greece and Turkey may be the only European countries open this summer” for Americans, and so they suggest their clients to “book now, before let the floodgates open and it’s too late. “
“What we have been told is that international flights to Greece for tourism will be open from all over the world on May 14th. We are waiting for the officials to tell us what the protocols will be for this year, ”says Dimitrokalis. who points out that Americans are among the island’s biggest fans.
“Most of the tourists that visit Santorini are from the United States and Australia, and if they can’t come for some reason, I’m in big trouble,” says Linoxylaki, who sells clothing and accessories, mostly made by Greek designers. “These are my clients. They support small businesses like mine. “
During this time of year, summer bookings would normally be around 70-80 percent, but according to Dimitrokalis, today the number is down to 25-30 percent. “We hope that next month more people will be interested and we hope that by the end of the season we can reach around 50 percent of 2019. We are putting our hopes in last minute bookings to reach our goal,” he said. He says.
Most bookings start in mid-summer, but everyone is optimistic. “If the weather is good we hope to extend the season this year, because we are already losing the first three months,” says Dimitrokalis, and that is something that Linoxylaki agrees, although he has his doubts about the reopening: “We hope that September and October it will be the peak of this season. But I have to be honest, personally I don’t think we can open on May 14, as the government said. “
Like Santorini, most of the Greek islands also suffered their share last year. Among them, Mykonos, the popular Cycladic island with the bright white houses and wild nightlife.
When Kim Kardashian and her family traveled to Mykonos in 2013 to film the eighth season of Keeping up with the Kardashians, Kim was pregnant with North and the island was full of paparazzi… and many tourists.
Today, Iraklis Zisimopoulos, CEO of Semeli Hospitality Group, which hosted the Kardashian family and their team nearly a decade ago, looks back on those days with some nostalgia, but with confidence for the future. “I am sure they will return again; the coronavirus will not last forever. It may not be this year, but we see that the dynamics of Mykonos are not lost and we are sure that even better days will come, ”he says.
Zisimopoulos is also the general secretary of the Mykonos Catering and Entertainment Association, as well as the president of the Mykonos City Business and Professionals Association. “I have hotels, restaurants, bars, clubs and everything is closed,” he says with a bitter smile.
Speaking to the Athens News Agency last September, Konstantinos Koukas, the island’s mayor, said that last season they reached only 30 percent of 2019, and as Zisimopoulos explains: “Last year was catastrophic, but we hope that this year be different. It definitely won’t be anywhere near a normal season, but it sure won’t be like 2020. “
The most important role in the setup will be the protocols under which tourists will be able to enter Greece. “So far we know that there are three options: 1) People who have already been vaccinated, 2) Those who have tested negative in the last 48 hours and 3) Those who have already been sick and now have the antibodies,” says Zisimopoulos. , a doctor himself.
However, when it comes to Mykonos, people don’t travel to the island just for the beautiful view or to swim in the crystal blue sea. They go because they want to have fun and they all have one thing in mind… nightlife!
Mykonos is known worldwide as the “party island” of Greece and a land where you can openly be who you are. Anastasios Kapetanias contributed as much as anyone to this reputation. For the director and founder of XLSIOR Festival, the only gay music festival in Greece and among the top five in the world, last year was the first time he had to cancel it, since it was first launched in 2009. But it has a high hopes for this summer.
“People are thirsty for fun,” he says. “We get a lot of emails every day from people begging us to do the festival this year. They tell us’ we have to see our friends; we need to feel free again. ‘ Everyone is about to explode; we can’t take it anymore. “
For the Greek government, nightlife is not an absolute priority and will be one of the last things to open, and the terms under which are still unknown. But for the local economy, this is a huge blow. XLSIOR alone brings more than 30,000 people to the island each summer from all over the world. “We have people who come from the United States, Brazil, Spain, Israel, and most of them are people who come every year,” explains Kapetanias, who also collaborates with various local businesses such as hotels, car rental, restaurants, etc. help your customers.
“Last August, when the government decided to close all bars and clubs at midnight, all reservations stopped and many were canceled,” says Zisimopoulos. The whole situation was completely surreal, as Kapetanias describes it: “People were walking the streets looking for parties in the villages to go to and everyone was hiding as if we were in a war. This is not Mykonos. “
The Greek government decided to vaccinate all residents on small islands, with fewer than 1,000 inhabitants, with some of the first COVID-free islands in Greece, including Kastellorizo and Oinousses.
Could a similar plan work for Mykonos, with around 10,000 people? Zisimopoulos is confident that it will solve many of their problems: “If all the locals get vaccinated, whatever happens on the island, we will have a strong protective shield. In a normal season, we would have at least 10 reservations per day. Now the maximum is 2. The last 20 days we have seen some movement and we have some reserves from the UK, Israel and the US where vaccination is going faster. Most of those reservations are for July and August. “
Kapetanias, for his part, suggests that a good idea for reopening live festivals like his could be rapid tests. “They could go to a clinic on the island earlier the same day, do the test and if it is negative they could come with the results and enter. We just need to be super organized, so that people are completely safe. “
And while no one knows for sure what this summer nightlife will be like, the engines on the island are running and everyone is getting organized, hoping they won’t have to cancel again. “Due to the situation, we will be able to organize events in dream places, where other years it was not possible. This year, most of our events will also be outdoors. Of course, we will also bring the best DJs, musicians and dancers that we know our audience loves, ”says Kapetanias about this year’s event, which has already been announced for August 18 and 25.
“It will be a year in which we will recover much of our life and our vacations, and because we have been deprived of so many things this last year, it will make us feel much better. I really think there is hope on the horizon, ”says Zisimopoulos. Kapetanias agrees: “To be honest, what I want for this summer is to see happy people, who will laugh, have fun, be safe and want to come back next year.”