It’s been a historic week for Greece, the sun-kissed nation now on the verge of economic collapse. Thanks to years of overspending, the country is virtually broke and nearly bankrupt - causing locals to panic, investors to bail and government officials to scramble for a solution.
For tourists, however, the situation is -mostly- confusing. Cash is now being hoarded, but foreigners can use currency freely. Five-star hotels are bursting, but discounts may be on the horizon. And tourist numbers are up some 30 percent from 2014, but travel insiders are keeping an eye on cancellations.
Amid all the questions, here are five things to consider if you’re going to Greece now:Cash is king:
Although only Greek citizens must abide by the nation’s new currency restrictions - limiting withdrawals to just 60 euros ($67) per day - many ATMs are now empty. Meaning: Bring an ample supply of dollars on your trip - or, even better, stock up on euros before departing the US. “Banks are basically closed this week in Greece, and locals are panicking,”
says Greece expert Konstantinos Bastas
, a luxury travel consultant at Protravel International
. “So make sure you have enough money with you, especially if staying [in] cities rather than all-inclusive resorts where expenses can be charged.”
Most major airports feature multicurrency ATMs or currency exchange desks. As for that actual cash, best to have it in small denominations - local businesses (especially taxis) may not have ample change to cover large bills.Don’t expect a refund:
Travel insurance generally covers conventional mishaps or tragedies - personal injury, deaths in the family, terror attacks or large-scale civil unrest. Relatively violence-free, national economic crises like the one in Greece? Not so much. So even if you were smart enough to purchase travel insurance, the policy may not pay out if you opt to cancel now. But be sure to read the fine print - some policies do have a “cancel for any reason” clause - and will kick in if you end up scrapping your big fat Greek holiday.Look for lower fares:
Summer is usually high season - if not ultrahigh season - for European travel. But the current unrest is already resulting in lower fares for flights to Greece, says George Hobica of Airfarewatchdog. He cited a $999 round-trip fare on United through Munich during the Labor Day week - a period that usually sees prices upward of 50 percent higher.“Athens never goes on sale, so this is definitely cheaper than normal; probably people are canceling and they have seats to fill,”
he says. And if the crisis continues, expect to see more softening on airfares.“And if - and it’s a big if - Greece leaves the euro, then all bets are off,”
Hobica adds. “People might cancel or curtail their trips, which could lead to Greece bargains for the rest of the year.”
As for hotels and resorts, travel insiders suggest potential deals at the lower or mid level, but expect five-star properties to remain pricey.“Reservations at top-tier destinations like Santorini and Mykonos were made months ago, so rooms would have already been filled well before the current situation,”
says Jonas Rask Eilersen
, founding director of Rask Travel
, which works with global luxury travelers.
Adds Protravel International’s Bastas: “So this means if you see a deal - take it!”There’s no real reason to stay home:
Sure, Greece’s economy is free-falling - and yes, locals are protesting in the streets - but an Arab Spring-style revolution is seriously unlikely. So snap out of crisis mode, and prepare to actually enjoy your vacation.“There is ample availability of both fuel and all products and services that ensure a smooth and fun stay for the visitors in every city, region and the islands,” Elena Kountoura
, Greece’s minister for tourism, recently stated.
Rask Eilersen says his clients going to Greece “have not even flinched; there is no panic and it’s completely business as usual.”
While Katharine Bonner
, senior vice president of riverboat and small ship cruising at major tour operator Tauck, notes, “Our ‘Tauck Directors’ [that’s tour directors] on the ground with our guests report no issues, and our supplier-partners have made sure that our guests have access to euros if needed.”“Our hotelier reports that business in Athens is booming and shows little signs of waning,”
she says. “We’ve not seen any increase in cancellations - in fact, our 2016 advance sales are up 30 percent.”Practice patience:
Beyond the headlines, Greece is now a nation in transition - filled with unpredictability and uncertainty. Which means that while most tourism experiences will unfold as planned, delays and quirks should be expected.“The country is not sure where it’s headed, where it’s going,”
Bastas observes. “So as a tourist, be prepared to be patient and have a backup plan -if not backup team- in place.”
Consider working with an agent like Protravel or Rask, which has operators on the ground to handle problems as they arise.“Even if you’re a master at Expedia, they don’t have folks in place to help out if you miss a ferry or a flight,”