Greek meltdown has UAE tour operators scrambling for holiday alternatives

As the Greek debt crisis drags on, scaring away potential visitors, tour operators in the UAE suggest alternative destinations for the summer.

The Mediterranean nation is technically in arrears after having missed its €1.6 billion (Dh6.52bn) payment to the IMF on Tuesday.

“Outbound tourism from the UAE to Greece is likely to be affected as travellers might choose not to go there,” said John Podaras, a partner at Hotel Development Resources, a consultancy in Dubai. “Tourists from here usually go to Mykonos and Santorini, which are high-end destinations within Greece and these are unlikely to be affected by transportation strikes.”


Some tour operators expect to take a hit.

Sharjah-based Musafir.com sold Greek tour packages to 900 people last year, but expects a drop of 75 to 80 per cent in bookings this year because of the situation there.

“Continuous strikes by public transport and government entities in Greece mean that ferry services, taxis and local attractions are closed or unavailable to tourists,” said Raheesh Babu, the general manager of Musafir.com. “With banks being shut it is difficult for tourists to deal in euros and transact at local Greek banks.”

During the Eid holidays, it is promoting neighbouring country Cyprus as well as eastern Europe.

Locals can withdraw up to €60 from ATMs, but the ceiling does not apply to tourists.

Travellers to Greece “should be aware that the capital control measures imposed by the Greek government do not apply to transactions or withdrawals made via ATM with the use of debit or credit cards issued in their country”, according to the Greek embassy in Abu Dhabi.

Some travel agencies say they are yet to rebook tours to Greece to some other destinations.

Cox and Kings said that it had not received any cancellation requests for tours to the country scheduled until next month.

“But appointments in the Greece embassy seem to be a challenge,” said Vinod Kumar, the senior general manager for outbound markets at Cox and Kings in Dubai. “We do suggest Turkey or other European destinations such as Italy, Germany, Switzerland and Austria [instead of Greece].”

Greek islands are among the popular cruise destinations for people from the region during the season that runs from March to October.

At MSC Cruises it is business as usual for trips to Greece and the eastern Mediterranean, a company spokeswoman said.

About 22 million tourists are expected to visit Greece this year, up from 21 million last year, according to the trade body World Travel and Tourism Council. Tourism accounts for 20 per cent of the country’s GDP.

While Greece receives about 75,000 tourists from the UAE a year, Germany is the largest source market followed by the UK, Russia and France.

International tourist arrivals are expected to grow at 3 per cent this year, down from a 23 per cent growth rate last year over the previous, because of the financial uncertainty, according to the consultancy Euromonitor International.

Economists suggest that a Greek default could be messy and push Greece into a recession this year and next.

“A [Greek exit] would benefit Greek exporters through a currency depreciation, but at the same time it would hurt them by raising the costs of key imports used in the production process, raising the burden of euro-denominated debts and making it hard for exporters to get external financing,” said Daniel Solomon, an economist with Euromonitor International. “Buyers of Greek exports could reduce their demand due to all the extra uncertainty about surrounding the [Greek exit] and the ability of Greek suppliers to withstand it.”

But a Greek exit of the European Union is unlikely, he said.

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