Sunday 24 August 2020
A warm summer afternoon, but different from what I have become accustomed to in recent years. An afternoon that finds me for yet another day anxiously awaiting the number of COVID 19 cases from the medical authorities. My need for this information is daily. After all, the future of my job, my business, the financial survival of my family, my employees (who, after all, are like my family) depend on this announcement. 284 new case – a new record. And the forecasts for the rise of cases are not the best, both for our country and for the countries that send tourists to our homeland.
Disappointment overwhelms me. Already the Baltic countries and part of Scandinavia placed Greece in the countries in the red zone, with RO near or above 1.2 days ago emergency flights took, before their scheduled departure, our Norwegian and Finnish customers back to their homeland, putting these two countries on the long list of excluded areas. Rain cancellations in recent days. Articles and analysts speculate and predict the closure from England and Germany in the coming days. May they not come true.
The season that started 54 days ago is nearing, it seems, its end. Colleagues call me and visit me to express their anxiety, fears, panic about what is coming. Owners of accommodation and hotels the same. My staff, with the same anxiety, watch the end of the season coming. Unfortunately we could not hold on a little longer to save something. 53 days… and about 260 days from the absolute destruction of the biggest economic and socio-cultural phenomenon of the last decades worldwide, tourism, and one of its main links, which is the tourist offices.
260 days ago: November 2019
November 2019 found the travel agencies in a great position, due to an amazing summer season, while the indications, statistics, forecasts and bookings for 2020 were excellent.
In this climate of euphoria, the building of another good season had begun.
The tourist offices, at great cost:
- Retained all their staff and hired to prepare for 2020
- Invested in new software
- Took out ads
- Participated in trade fairs to promote their products
- Created new tourism products
- Opened new destinations in the territory
- Opened branches to serve the needs of their foreign partners
- Renewed their bus fleet
- Promoted Greek tourism
After the November trade fairs and lining up the details for a great 2020 season, and before the bookings really take off, typically after December 25, we were all thinking about the days of rest and relaxation of Christmas. But there, at the end of the year, amidst laughter, joy and family moments, the existence of a new virus that appeared in China was heard of for the first time.
The vacation is over and we were packing suitcases for the January shows. The new virus was playing more on the news, but nothing is going to stop, or so we thought, the great season ahead. We all imagined that the problem would stay there, in faraway Asia, and would not affect us. Besides, the flow of bookings was normal and quite good, despite the pandemic news. Bookings continued normally, the advances came as agreed and accommodation, hotels and partners were planned and paid in full, as in previous years.
The problem of the new deadly virus from China appeared to be spreading. Daily articles and reports highlight the problem as the pandemic reaching Europe. The first alarm bells ring, mainly in the reduction in bookings.
The storm breaks out. Covid-19 is now everywhere in Europe. The lock-down starts. Restrictions are put on travel. Fear and insecurity reign, while the rise in cases and deaths in Europe is frightening. Cancellations are the order of the day. Advancing refunds as well. We are there in our office, with all our staff, to meet our obligations to clients and partners, with a huge volume of work. All the business built for the upcoming 8-9 months evaporated at a rapid pace.
For us Greeks the evil was twofold. On the one hand, the coronavirus’s nightmare found us at the beginning of the season and on the other hand, any reserves had already gone during the ten-year economic crisis that plagued the country.
The March scene continues unabated, without any change. Another month of uncertainty, with no new bookings and only cancellations. After all, we still did not know when and if the borders and international arrivals would finally open.
The lock down is lifted and a form of normalcy seems to return, while the first conversations begin for the gradual opening of the border. We are back in our offices, with all our staff, to start from the beginning again. New contracts. New offers. Update partners and suppliers. Create protocols. Update health training. Change tickets.
Something starts and first bookings come in. Double work. All our b2c clients want information. The same with b2c. Phone calls and messages never stop. Which countries are opening? What are the protocols? What needs to be done? We are all there, with our staff, to ensure the reliability of the Greek product and the Greek tourist office. And we did it. Piles of complaints about large tour operators. Few complaints about the Greek offices that do incoming. And finally the opening of the borders on 1 July is announced (for Crete and the islands). Euphoria, optimism, anxiety, hope that something can be saved and preparations for the second opening in a year.
Opening of the summer season with many hopes. Very few arrivals – 30% of last year’s. Few tourists, while strict adherence to protocols is logical, mandatory, but in some places unbearable financially. We will do better in August and normally in September, we said, and see how October will go. As long as we have our health.
Again arrivals are lower than expectations and hopes, around 40-50% of last August. But September will be good. Then 24 August came and the season was effectively over. The work continues unabated, to prepare for 2021, because the tourist offices have not stopped working.
Tourism companies, with their contributions to the economy and the state coffers, have kept the country’s economy afloat for the last decade. For every euro of tourist income the GDP increases 3.68 times (multiplier 3.68).
Throughout this difficult year, the state has tried to take measures to support businesses and employees in tourism. Most have been in the right direction, with little or no delay, and in constant consultation with our trade associations.
Criticism can be made, but in such an unprecedented situation crisis management is not an easy task.
Now that it seems clear that the 2020 season is lost, the state must take immediate, medium- and long-term measures, which will save the Greek tourism industry, but will also lift a heavy burden from our backs, that of anxiety and insecurity. 2021 is coming and we must be ready.
FedHATTA has been tirelessly promoting our just demands all along, and I must congratulate the staff and the presidium for all their hard work on our behalf.
Measures which must be extended at least until 31 March 2021:
- Suspension of employment contracts at least until March 2021
- Corresponding extension of the rent reduction measure
- Simplification of procedures for access to bank lending
- Expansion of employment subsidy programs and support of operating costs
- Participation of tourism companies in the NSRF programs
- Suspension of tax and insurance obligations
- Suspension of bank liabilities
- Extension of the suspension of deadlines and payment of guarantees, for as long as the COVID crisis continues
- Support for liquidity through the banking system
- Support for employment and operating costs
- Support measures the competitiveness of the industry.
The industry has been hit hard. State support must be given. We ask for the obvious, so that what is left of Greek tourism remains in Greek hands.
Colleagues, I wish you strength and courage.
Stratos Beretis is President of the Association of Tourist and Travel Agencies of Rethymno and Vice President of FedHATTA