How the Greek Debt Crisis Is Impacting Travelers

Travel smart and it can still be a great time to visit Greece.

Some travelers might be thinking twice about that trip to Greece, considering the country’s recent economic collapse, but travel experts say the conditions affect locals more than tourists.

The biggest issue facing tourists, however, is a lack of access to cash. Near the end of June, the government had placed a $67 (60 euros) cap on daily ATM withdrawals because the nearly bankrupt country is considering a transition from the euro to the drachma. The cap, however, does not affect customers with debit cards issued by foreign banks.

Americans are not being urged to stay away from Greece, just to use common sense. The U.S. Embassy in Athens recently posted this warning on its website: “U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry more than one means of payment (cash, debit cards, credit cards), and make sure to have enough cash on hand to cover emergencies and any unexpected delays. The State Department recommends you maintain a high level of security awareness and avoid political rallies and demonstrations as instances of unrest can occur. ... Avoid the areas of demonstrations, and if you find yourself too close to a demonstration, move in the opposite direction and seek shelter. Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence.”

The Parthenon in Athens, Greece
Greece's economy will take time to recover, much like the decades-long and ever-continuing work on the Parthenon in Athens. (©kostagr/Shutterstock)

Pacha Tours Intl Inc., of New York, which arranges tours all over the world, said that U.S. interest in travel to Greece has not been affected and that its clients who are already traveling the region have not complained or said anything negative about their experiences. AAA has had a similar experience. Tiffany Wright, the public relations manager for AAA Carolinas said, “At this time, there have been no reports of interruption of service or cancellation of departures to Greece.”

Konstantinos Georgiadis, the general manager of Amphitrion Holidays, a Washington-based tour company that primarily runs trips to Greece, told USA Today recently that because Greece does not have heavy industry or manufacturing, tourism is the lifeblood of the country's economy. So far, he said, this year has been one of the best for tourism in Greece.

"It's very, very important for Greece," he said. "The summer period opens up opportunities for part-time jobs, especially for young people who have been hit hard by the economic crisis.”

Cycladic architecture of a hotel in Naxos, Greece
Summer means a boost for Greece's economy, especially on the islands. Small hotels like this one on the island of Naxos are often family-owned and many restaurants hire seasonal workers to handle the influx of travelers. (©Geoff Kohl)

According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, Greek tourism brought in around $32.7 billion in 2014, which made up more than 17 percent of the country's gross domestic product. The industry also contributed to 9.4 percent of total employment, or 340,500 jobs. Euromonitor International said that roughly 22 million people visited Greece last year, a 23 percent year-over-year jump, because Greece was able to take advantage of instability in the Middle East and position itself as an alternative to other destinations such as Egypt and Tunisia. Nearly 600,000 Americans visit Greece each year.

Neither Priceline nor Expedia would comment on recent Greece travel trends, including airfare and hotel prices. A search on Priceline, however, for a round-tip economy/coach ticket from Atlanta, Georgia, to Athens, Greece, for July 20-30 showed a starting price of $1,365; from New York City, $1,243; from Los Angeles, $1,523. Searches on TripAdvisor and Expedia produced similar results. Several news outlets have recently reported five-star hotels filling up because of low prices, thanks to the American dollar's strength over the euro.

The Bay at Corfu in Greece
Travel writer Eleni Gage recently was able to book a villa on the beach at Cofu at the last minute because of a cancellation. Otherwise, her trip was not affected by the current economic climate of Greece. (©foodografie/Shutterstock)

Travel writer Eleni Gage returned home to New York from a trip to Greece on June 26.

“I think it's an ideal time to travel there,” Gage said, “not just because you're liable to get good deals on everything—as prices have dropped—but also as a show of support for the Greek people.”

She said none of her plans were affected by the crisis, “except that we were able to book a villa on the beach on Corfu at the last minute due to a cancellation; the person who arranged it for us said that repeat customers had been calling from Germany, asking if it was true that no one could get money out of ATMs. (It wasn't.) Another change I found was that credit cards are much more widely accepted than ever; I don't know if that's because it's easier to trace accountability or because people are worried it will be difficult to get cash, but it made traveling easier than it has in past years."

Gage said Thursday morning that a friend who is in Greece told her that ATM lines are not as long as they have been in previous days (when the default was first announced), in which reports indicated lines of more than hour to get to an ATM.

"Greece is still, in my opinion, the most magical place on Earth," Gage said. "The sea, the sun, the sweet-smelling linden trees, the juicy tomatoes; it's all still there. As Leonard Cohen wrote on the island of Hydra, ‘Greece is a good place to look at the moon, isn't it?’ That poem is called ‘Days of Kindness,’ and I think the Greek people are due for some.”

Update

Greeks on Sunday, July 5, rejected a bailout deal proposed by the country's international creditors, which demanded new austerity measures in return for emergency funds, according to the Huffington Post. But it also raised uncertainty about the country's financial future and its place in the eurozone. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras implored Greeks to vote against accepting the terms of the bailout throughout the week, arguing that a "no" vote would strengthen Athens' position in further negotiations. The prime minister cast his ballot for the "no" campaign in front of the cameras Sunday, saying "no one can ignore the will of the people to take their lives in their hands." Antonis Samaras, former Greek prime minister and current opposition leader, announced his resignation hours after the polls closed.

It is unclear how and when talks between Greece and its creditors will move forward. Greek government officials said Sunday they want to restart negotiations immediately, Reuters reported. A European official denied that talks would take place so soon, though. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande have called an emergency summit for Tuesday, July 7, to discuss the financial crisis.

The euro fell sharply after news about the Greek vote spread throughout the eurozone, according to Reuters.  The referendum comes after a week of uncertainty in Greece. Most Greek banks were closed all last week, and capital controls were put in place to prevent the collapse of its financial system. Supermarkets, gas stations and ATMs saw long lines. Some senior citizens waited for days in front of the few banks that were open to collect their pensions. More uncertainty is ahead. Louka Katseli, the chairwoman of the National Bank of Greece, warned on Friday that ATMs in the country will start running dry within hours after the vote if the European Central Bank does not provide new funds or ceilings on withdrawals are not reduced.

 

Smart Tips for Traveling to Greece

  • Bring multiple forms of payment, including cash, credit cards and debit cards.
  • Currently, there are no limits on the amount of cash foreign travelers can withdraw from ATMs; however, there are disruptions to banking services and travelers might encounter difficulty withdrawing money if an ATM is not replenished.
  • Bring additional cash to cover emergencies and unexpected delays.
  • Call your credit card company in advance to let them know where you’ll be traveling. Failure to alert your issuer can result in a hold on your account because of suspected fraud, leaving you in a bind.