Kathimerini: Local tourism showing first symptoms of virus impact

Conferences are being canceled, bookings have slumped, deposit payments are being delayed, cancelation policies are being revised, city hotel occupancy rates are low and arrivals from abroad are dropping: These are the first signs of the impact of the coronavirus epidemic on Greek tourism, and they are expected to rise.

The gradual freeze of conference tourism is leaving Athens hotels empty and a drop in city break trips (according to airline industry sources) has already dealt a serious blow on hotels that are open all year round. In just one day last week, one Greek hotelier with year-round units received cancelation notices from 14 groups of foreign visitors.

It is clear that this was not as isolated incident. A simple walk around the historic Plaka district in downtown Athens, which would usually be teeming with tourists this time of year, shows almost empty streets and, especially after dark, a significant reduction in customers at restaurants, cafes and bars.

The head of one landmark Athens hotel who declined to be named admits that he is particularly pessimistic. Speaking of occupancy rates below 20 percent, he estimates that a number of smaller units which opened recently will have a hard time surviving and paying off their loans without measures to support them.

Given Greece’s dependence on tourism and banks’ exposure, market insiders warns that if the epidemic drags on the credit sector may face a new batch of nonperforming loans from hotels.

Resorts are also seeing their summer bookings shrink compared to the same period last year, while hardly anybody expects a decent performance in April or May. The director of one resort tells Kathimerini that while bookings for the summer were on a par with 2019 by end-February, the first week of March has already brought a significant decline.

The problem is being compounded by the reluctance of tour operators to pay deposits for bookings that have already been made, as travel companies seek to contain their exposure. “Everyone is trying to pass the risk onto the next link in the chain,” says the head of sales at a major Greek hotel firm.

The Greek Tourism Confederation (SETE) is urging Greek hospitality professionals to adopt a flexible policy for cancelations so as to encourage visitors and tour operators to make bookings and to wait before canceling their holidays.