Nice place, shame about the economy
If Greece loses tourism, it loses everything, writes BRIAN BLAKE, who arrived on holidays in Crete to be greeted by half-empty bars and eerily quiet restaurants
IT WILL BE the end of the summer before Greece knows exactly how much the turmoil surrounding the euro has cost the country in terms of lost tourism revenue. But early indications are that visitors numbers are down substantially, which is hardly surprising, given the gloomy predictions early in the year about the imminent collapse of the economy there.
It was amid this uncertainty and with some trepidation that my family and I took a gamble and booked our holiday in Crete. Reaction ranged from, “Are you mad? There are riots on the streets there,” to, “Better book your drachmas now; they’ll be leaving the euro.”
And for a long time, it appeared the naysayers were right. Headlines predicted the imminent departure of Greece from the euro zone, with the inevitable consequences for the economy – and for anyone planning a visit to the country.
Then came the first election which, we optimistically reasoned, would clear up matters once and for all – either Greece would be staying in the euro or there would be a hasty exit followed by a swift return to the drachma and all that it entailed.
But the uncertainty continued when it turned out a second election would be needed, this one billed as a referendum on whether the Greek people were willing to stomach the grim austerity measures needed to continue with the euro.
This time they said yes, but the naysayers weren’t going to be silenced, billing it as a temporary measure.
Still, it was the best news we’d heard so far – our holiday could go ahead without currency-exchange worries, but there were still nagging doubts. Would the hotel we had booked online still be open when we arrived, or would the car-hire company have a vehicle for us?
Travel websites offered some comfort, assuring us that Greece was open for business, with the caveat that it would be best to bring cash in small denominations in the event that the ATMs ran out of money or there was a reluctance to accept credit cards.
But, as anyone who has visited Greece knows, cash has always been the most welcome way of doing business there – and therein lies the origin of much of the country’s economic decline, given the difficulty of keeping track of it for taxation purposes.
Arriving at Heraklion airport in Crete, there didn’t seem to be as many tourists as we expected in holiday season. Our luggage arrived without delay, there was no queue at the car-hire desk and there was little traffic on the road to our apartment complex.