Tourists are flocking to Greece’s collapsing economy

Why let a little financial crisis scare you away?
Why let a little financial crisis scare you away?
Image: Reuters/Alkis Konstantinidis
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Right now in Greece, citizens are lining up at ATMs in hopes of salvaging their savings, and banks are closed, ahead of a July 5 public vote on a bailout. But for the more than two million foreign tourists expected in the country this month, Greece wants to keep the focus on museums and historical sites.

To accommodate visitors amidst the chaos, the Greek government has made some concessions. While local businesses in Greece will cease processing domestic credit cards, foreign credit cards will, allegedly, still work. And while citizens won’t be permitted to withdraw more than 60 euros (US$66) from ATMs, there is no such limit for foreigners.

Keeping visitors coming is key to Greece’s economy. Tourism contributed to $39 billion to Greece’s GDP, or 17.3%, according to data from the World Travel and Tourism Council (pdf, pg. 8-9). By 2025, the industry is expected to hit $58 billion, or 19.8% of GDP (pg. 11).

Attracting more visitors has been a rallying cry among some politicians, who claim the country should ramp up marketing and renovate decaying treasures amidst its financial crisis.

Despite the collapsing economy, Greece remains relatively peaceful. That, coupled with tumbling prices, has kept visitors coming so far—last month, over 1.7 million tourists arrived in major Greek airports according to data from The Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises. Visits in recent months are actually up from a year ago:

But Greece is entering the trickiest, make-or-break part of negotiations just as the country enters its peak tourist season, when most of that 17% of GDP is earned.

So far, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing for guests in Greece. ATMs have been running out of money in recent days, leaving tourists who don’t plan ahead (paywall) running from machine to machine. And the crisis is creating some disconcerting scenes, visitors report:

It is possible that economic policy that Greece is negotiating right now with the EU could hurt tourism overall. The euro zone is pushing for higher sales taxes in Greece, for example. That would finance aid, but raise prices, thereby deterring travelers.

But some tourists see these as issues for the Greeks themselves to worry about:

And others say they are eager to do their part to improve Greece’s fiscal situation. “Seriously, give Chinese people visa-free entry to Greece, now,” one Chinese user wrote on Sina Weibo (login required), the blogging platform. “This summer, let China’s tourists save the Greek economy!”