Why your summer holiday to Greece looks promising
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Editor’s note: As the travel industry reopens following COVID-19 shutdowns, TPG suggests that you talk to your doctor, follow health officials’ guidance and research local travel restrictions before booking that next trip. Greece is currently under lockdown for tourism until 15 June, and the FCO still advises against all non-essential travel. We will be here to help you prepare, whether it is next month or next year. This story has been updated with new information.
Greece is one of the most popular summer hotspots for Brits. From the stunning sunsets in Santorini, partying into the night in Mykonos and the slow pace of life you’ll find in the Greek Islands, there’s plenty to love about a holiday in Greece.
But with travel completely upended by the coronavirus, what happens to your Greek summer holiday this year?
Like with most things about the coronavirus, information is changing every day. So planning for a summer Greek hol is all but certain, as what we know now may be different from what we know by next week.
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Ultimately, your summer Greek holiday depends on several things. First, government restrictions. If the Greek government backtracks on its decision to allow Brits in, you won’t be allowed to holiday there. Second, the supply has to be there. If there are no airlines flying to your destination, it’ll be impossible to get there, and if the hotels haven’t reopened, there will be nowhere to stay. Lastly, your willingness to travel, including your willingness to potentially self-isolate for 14 days when you return home. Airlines will have to convince passengers that air travel is safe, which could prove to be challenging. Other factors will ultimately add to the equation as well, but these are the main holdups.
In the past few weeks, a number of airlines have unveiled their plans to return to service throughout June and July. Among them, low-cost carrier Wizz Air announced its intentions to launch a number of routes for the summer — including to Greece. Beginning 16 June, Wizz Air plans to launch holiday flights from London Luton to Portugal. Then, in July, the carrier plans to launch flights from Luton to Greece — Corfu, Heraklion, Rhodes and Zakynthos.
Additionally, EasyJet announced that it plans to resume mostly domestic U.K. service as of 15 June. Additionally, the carrier announced on 2 June that it plans to resume around 75% of its operations by August — presumably with service to popular holiday destinations, including those in Greece.
Fellow low-cost carrier Ryanair has said that it plans to move forward with plans to offer 40% of its route network as of 1 July. As part of that, the airline has said that it plans to operate to “key holiday airports” in Portugal, Italy, Greece and Cyprus.
“Although travel is currently restricted by government regulations, we are planning for the easing of restrictions as the situation improves and our customers are able to start travelling again”, Wizz Air U.K. Managing Director Owain Jones said.
Meanwhile, the U.K.’s full-service carrier British Airways has remained relatively tight-lipped about what routes it plans to launch. However, Willie Walsh, the CEO of International Airlines Group, which owns BA, said that the carrier will make a “meaningful return to service” from July.
Of course, these summer holiday routes depend on respective governments lifting travel restrictions in relation to the coronavirus. Currently, the U.K.’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office advises against all non-essential travel for U.K. nationals — the same guideline that has been in place since 17 March. There’s no indication when the FCO may lift that guidance.
Additionally, the airlines that are launching service to popular holiday destinations are relying on the Greek government to keep its current stance that says it’ll allow U.K. travellers in.
As a country, Greece went under lockdown relatively early in the coronavirus crisis, and the number of cases and deaths has been low. Since March, Greece has been closed to non-EU citizens, and the country has issued a mandatory 14-day quarantine for anyone arriving from another country.
As of 15 June, the country is set to open to tourists. As of that date, international flights will be allowed in to Athens and Thessaloniki, before all airports are set to accept arrivals as of 1 July. The government had been back and forth about who it would allow in and when. After several changes on the topic, the Greek tourism minister is saying that it doesn’t depend on the nationality of the arriving passenger, but instead, what airport they came from.
Greece now says that arrivals from airports deemed high-risk by the European Union Safety Agency (EASA), which includes many U.K. airports, will be allowed in subject to testing and potential quarantine upon arrival.
“Tourists originating from airports listed on EASA are obliged to be tested once they land in Greece and remain at a designated hotel for one day”, Greek Tourism Minister Harry Theoharis told ANA-MPA. “If the test turns out negative, these visitors will then be obliged to observe a seven-day quarantine. If their sample is positive, they will remain in a 14-day quarantine and their health will be monitored”.
Of the U.K.’s airports, 13 are categorised as high-risk by EASA, including London Gatwick, Glasgow, Heathrow and Stansted. However, Edinburgh is not deemed high-risk by EASA.
“Ideally we want more high-end tourists where we can actually respect social distancing”, Mitsotakis told CNN in May.
In addition to being allowed into Greece, U.K. travellers will have to worry about returning home. As of 8 June, the U.K. government plans to implement its mandatory 14-day isolation for all arriving international passengers — even U.K. nationals. As of the time of publication, there are some exemptions, such as those coming from the Common Travel Area, however, there are no “air bridges” in place to allow those to enter from low-risk countries.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said the policy would be reviewed every three weeks.
Airlines and the U.K. tourism industry at large have opposed the regulation, which they say will further inhibit the already-crippled industry. As long as the policy is in place, you may be able to go on your Greek holiday — if the FCO lifts its current no-travel guidance — however, you may have to quarantine for 14 days upon your arrival home.
Tourism is a huge draw for Greece, which is why the country is looking to reopen its doors sooner, rather than later. Last year, it reported 34 million visitors, bringing in about 18 billion euros in revenue — about 10%-12% of economic output. The tourism sector employs about one in five Greeks.
“This season is not going to be like the other years, I would be a fool to believe that this could ever be the case”, Greek tourism minister Harry Theocharis said in April. “However, there is a lot that we can do to re-open the tourist economy, the flows”.
If flights resume, hotels have reopened and the Greek government has lifted tourism restrictions, there still is one big issue that both the airlines and hospitality operators have to face — attracting travellers to come. Airlines have to implement new measures in order to convince travellers that flying is safe, and hotels have to go to great lengths to prove to travellers that they are clean.
Several airlines in the U.K. and around Europe have detailed plans to help potential travellers feel more comfortable with booking a flight. For example, Ryanair has said that it will require everyone to wear face masks, and passengers will be able to use the lavatory only when they ask.
Wizz Air has said that it will give all passengers sanitising wipes in order to wipe their seats down before travel. It’s also getting rid of seatback literature to prevent the spread of the virus by touch.
The debate that has struck the airline industry for travel in the aftermath of coronavirus is whether to keep the middle seat empty to encourage physical distancing. While Wizz said that it plans to encourage physical distancing in the airport, it will fill middle seats if there’s enough demand.
In April, EasyJet CEO Johan Lundgren said the airline will offer an open middle seat option for passengers as demand allows, though it later backtracked, saying it wouldn’t always be possible. Meanwhile, at fellow low-cost carrier Ryanair, CEO Michael O’Leary said the idea to enforce an empty middle seat policy was “idiotic“.
Director General of the International Air Transport Association Alexandre de Juniac said in May that there was no evidence that passengers would be safer if the middle seat was left empty.
Finally, the hospitality industry in Greece — and beyond — will have to prove to guests that they’re safe as well. Several of the big chain hotels — Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt — have announced new cleaning and sanitisation measures inside their properties.
And, of course, when travellers get to their destination, there still remains the issue of physical distancing. On a crowded beach, it’s hard to imagine there being enough space to feel completely comfortable.
A summer Greek holiday is likely high on the minds of many of us after spending months at home and locked down. But ultimately, that Greek holiday lies in the hands of a number of factors. First and foremost, government restrictions have to be lifted in order for U.K. passport holders to be allowed through the country’s borders — which, if the current developments hold true, should be permitted as of 15 June. There also has the be the supply there — and a number of low-cost carriers have already revealed they plan to offer that option. Finally, the consumer’s willingness to travel has to be there, including the acceptance of potentially having to isolate for 14 days when they return home.
And above all, the FCO guidance has to be lifted before you can head out on your holiday.
For now, it looks like late summer travel to Greece may happen — July and beyond. As with all things about the coronavirus, it’s possible — and likely — that things could change over the coming days and weeks. Greece may paint a clearer picture as to those allowed in without a test, more airlines may reveal routes from the U.K. to the country and airlines and hotels may reveal additional safety measures for passengers to feel comfortable enough going there.
Related: The 10 top spots in Greece for Brits
If you are keen on getting the summer holiday to Greece planned and booked, be sure you pay attention to the cancellation policies on both your flights and hotels. Use flexible booking policies to your advantage during this uncertain time, as things may change from day to day and week to week.
Featured photo by 1001nights/Getty Images.