By Quentin Fottrell
As Greek prepares to vote on its future, experts say hoteliers seem to be more concerned with the tourist turnout.
While flights to Greece remain at typical summertime levels, tour operators say the country’s hotels are slashing prices. One-fifth of Greek hotels and tour operators have reduced their prices in recent weeks, according to Travelzoo.com, which found discounts as high as 50% off. One European travel site, Trivago, said online hotel prices at hotels in Athens are down more than 20% so far this month versus the same time last year. “Hotels are offering discounts that are highly unusual for this time of year,” says Odysseas Papadimitriou, CEO and founder of CardHub.com and frequent traveler to Greece.
Experts say the cuts are a response to few travelers visiting Greece, as fears of further instability and civil unrest there continue to grow. Tourism is set to drop by one-third during the peak season this summer, according to some estimates. European travel agency Thomas Cook and German tour operator TUI AG both reported a 30% drop in bookings, while the Greek Tourism Enterprises Association estimates they will fall by at least 15% this year. “Greeks are desperate for cash, and they know tourism is one of their economy’s backbones,” says Gregg Mauss, who runs Expeditions-Redefined, a New York-based luxury travel firm. (The tourism industry makes up around one-fifth of the Greek economy.)
The latest discounts are further helped by the strong dollar against the euro: hovering at $1.26 currently – a far better exchange rate than $1.43 this time last year. “It’s a perfect time to travel to Greece given that exchange rate hasn’t been this good for the last five summers,” Papadimitriou says. What’s more, he says a Greek exit from the euro could mean more ultra-cheap hotel and vacation home prices as the government would likely be forced to devalue the drachma to help pay off debts, making the dollar even stronger.
To be sure, some say that the capital’s best hotels will remain expensive. “There’s nothing to say that a $400-a-night room at a five-star boutique hotel won’t still be $400-a-night regardless of the currency exchange rate,” Mauss says. And, for those who would rather spend their vacation seeing the Acropolis rather than sitting on a beach or island-hopping, Mauss says a return to civil unrest in Athens ahead could lead to museum closures or problems with public transportation.