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Early bookings save the tourist season in Greece

17 July 2015 / 11:07:12  GRReporter
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Greece has been constantly present in international news in recent months. Stressful negotiations with creditors, a referendum, closed banks, people worried about the present uncertainty, queuing at ATMs. The crisis appears to be the background of the ongoing tourist season the start of which was marked by news about cancelled holiday bookings and flights to our southern neighbour. Ivan Petkov speaks with Lоra Markova, owner of travel agency Medida Travel, to find out how the crisis in Greece has affected the tourism industry.

Has the crisis affected the flow of Bulgarian tourists who want to spend their holiday in Greece?

Things in the tourism industry are different from politics and finance. They are related but have no directly influence on each other. In tourism, planning takes place several months, even a year, before the season. People have prepaid their vacations long before the crisis. Beyond the troubles that unfortunately have really happened in Greece, Bulgarians constantly rediscover this destination. I do not understand politics or finances but Greece offers one of the highest levels of tourism services in Europe and this fact is difficult to change, despite the problems. This is evident not only due to Bulgarian tourists; we know that tourists from all over the world from all levels visit it as well. Greece has exceptional nature, pure and gorgeous beaches with crystal and warm water. It has history, art, museums; incredibly delicious food, quality and clean services, affordable prices. Greeks are hospitable. There is no crime that tourists can feel. It is no inferior to many exotic destinations as a place for your summer vacation. In this sense, I do not believe the things that are happening in politics can have such a significant influence. The country is rich in traditions and culture and I think that politicians are much transient.

Some customers have just returned from a Greek island and said that nothing different happened except that they had to have cash. People were calm and hospitable, hotels and taverns were full. Of course, people are worried about the situation but tourists do not feel it.

How to book when banks in Greece are closed in fact?

Bulgarian travel agencies work in several ways with regard to bookings in Greece - major Greek companies with booking systems for travel agencies opened two main offices here a few years ago. They have prepaid hotels the previous season, have accounts in Bulgarian banks and we pay to them here when booking. We have been operating in this way for a long time for more convenience and for saving on fees for international transfers. Sometimes we book directly at the hotel, but now it is not possible because banks are closed, hopefully temporarily. In addition, major European travel agencies have prepaid rooms and we buy them from them. Judging from their booking systems, hotel occupancy on the islands and Halkidiki is quite high in the high season, as every year.

The key is that really everything was prepaid before the crisis and, fortunately, it would hardly have implications in this way, at least at present.

How has the crisis affected the prices and quality of tourist services?

Quality of tourist services, I believe, has not changed, though, as I say, people are surely worried, to put it mildly. Closed banks, empty ATMs and uncertainty cannot but affect Greeks. With regard to prices, I would not say that they have changed. Greece offers tourism at different levels. You can stay with your family at a hotel suite for 35 euro per night, shop from supermarkets and fishermen and cook every day or you can stay somewhere for 300 euro per night, and more.

Is there an outflow of tourists to other European destinations such as Spain and Italy?

No, I would not say. Bulgarians are becoming increasingly curious and bolder in terms of travelling. This year, my colleagues offered good and affordable packages to Italy and Spain, and carried out extensive trips in combination with charter flights, hotels and excursion programmes. The trip to Italy included visits to Rimini, Puglia, Sicily, Chinkoe ​​Terre, Tuscany, and to Spain trips to Barcelona and the Costa Brava, to Malaga and the Costa del Sol, round Valencia, but in addition to bookings, as is the common practice with bookings in Greece.

Has tourism sector in Bulgaria benefited from the crisis in Greece?

We have beautiful nature suitable for all types of tourism during the four seasons of the year. Nevertheless, I think we are very different as a destination and we are not competitive with Greece in this respect. Tourism in Bulgaria suffered a little this summer for other reasons, there was a large outflow of Russian tourists, although hoteliers drastically lowered prices at the last moment.

However, we are talking about Greece and, as a tour operator and tourist, I would say that it is an enchanting place, and I believe and hope that they will solve their problems without affecting the hospitality and natural resources of our beautiful neighbour.

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