Sparkling bays surround the Greek island of Patmos. (Chris Vlachos )
Question: What is the anticipated effect of the financial problems in Greece on tourists this summer?
Answer: That's not an easy question to answer, because negotiations over Greece's financial fate continued last week, and the outcome will determine how uncomfortable — or not — life there will be.
What has happened to Greece is a bit like what happens to many of us: It borrowed too much money. But here's the infuriating part: When a new government took power in late 2009, it was discovered that there had been some creative accounting, which made the financial situation look much better than it actually was. Whether you're doing this with a country or with your spouse, it's a bad idea. Although a little spousal deception generally won't destroy your union, when a country like Greece does it, it does jeopardize a different kind of union — the European Union, of which there are 27 members and of which Greece has been a part since 1981. The agglomeration was supposed to make a strong whole.
Greece has played a big role in destabilizing the union. It has tried to cut its debt by imposing austerity measures, which have led to public outrage. In May 2010, protests resulted in riots in which three people were killed, and in October, riots over two days, in which 100,000 people protested financial austerity measures, turned violent, injuring about 80 people.
The situation in Greece is an unhappy one. But Greece needs tourist dollars now more than ever to find its way out from under lest it default on its loans. Tourism is one of its leading industries, and that means you are apt to find bargains.
"Greece is a perfect example of how, until they can show the world complete stability and control, it's going to have to generate some substantial value as a way to reel in … vacation dollars," said Gabe Saglie, senior editor with TravelZoo, a deals site. TravelZoo recently offered an eight-night vacation package in Greece with air from New York for $1,499 a person, he said. It included two nights in Athens, three in Mykonos and three nights in Santorini, plus ferry service and breakfast. (The deal was posted Jan. 25 and may no longer be available.)
"Is this a package that we'd see if the current situation was much different and much better? Probably not," he said.
Will you get caught up in the insanity of a riot or a strike? It's possible, said Nicholas Hadgis, dean of the School of Hospitality Management at Widener University in Chester, Pa. "Be prepared to be patient when there are random strikes," he said. "Greece for years — even before the crisis — had random strikes." Being away from Athens also may be a good idea if you're looking to bask in the sun without the overlay of tension.
Greece will need to outsmart its competition, Hadgis said, especially to attract Europeans "who just want to get away from the snow and the cold." Greece has more than 2,000 islands and gorgeous beaches, but it also has competition from the rest of the Mediterranean — Spain also is in a terrible financial situation — for the euros of those who want to shake off the chill, so it might have further incentive to discount.
Those nice, warm beaches need your cold, hard cash. So read the news, and keep your eyes peeled for bargains. In 2012, Greece very well could be the word.
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