|by Sean O'Neill||Europe, Greece, Emergencies||5|
Greece has been much in the news lately, with scary stories about strikes, bank runs, and a threatened switch in its currency. TV news coverage has scared away some travelers, and summer bookings are down about 15 percent.
Given the economic turmoil, what do travelers planning to visit Greece need to know? Here are some insights from experts.
June 17 is the day of a big national election.
Museums and archaeological sites will be closed across the country. The election will help to decide if Greece will honor its financial deals or seek to re-negotiate them. Some locals may react to the results by protesting in the streets, says Costas Lapavitsas, a London-based economics professor.
So, best to avoid Athens on June 17 and the days around it. Or else take out travel insurance and leave lots of additional time in your itinerary in case you have trouble making connections to ferries or planes.
Hotel and vacation package rates are likely to stay high this summer.
Surprise! That’s because big tour operators buy most of the rooms in Greece for re-sale to travelers around the world, says economist Andreas Papatheodorou who consults on tourism from Chios, Greece.
If prices did drop for some reason, the companies are unlikely to pass along any savings to travelers—at least through the summer. Having said that, intrepid travelers who book trips on their own may find some savings in smaller, independently run bed-and-breakfasts.
If Greece does leave the euro, the cost of visiting the country could drop by as much as half for Americans using dollars to convert into the new currency, making the place attractive to visit, at least for its price tags.
Restaurant prices will probably stay high, too.
Surprise! Fuel prices are higher than usual in Greece because of complicated reasons related to how fuel is sold and delivered to the islands and the use of currency on international markets. For travelers, what matters is that high fuel prices boost the cost of food in a country that has to import a lot of what it eats that isn't seafood. Expect food and beverages it serves in restaurants to stay expensive as long as Greece remains on the euro this year, says Papatheodorou.
Major museums will operate normally this summer.
As of today, the government plans to do everything it can to keep major tourist attractions open because tourism is one of its last industries providing ready hard cash, says Dimitrios Pandermalis, director of the Acropolis Museum.
Attractions and beach resorts are expected to stay open.
That should be true even in the worst-case scenario that Greece must abandon the euro as a currency, says Pandermalis. This summer, the government will probably have to lay off thousands of more public-sector workers. But major tourist attractions will remain staffed and open, he says.
Strikes may happen this year at any time, in any place.
In cities or on the islands, workers for ferries, trains, taxis, trash collection, police and even medical clinics may go on strike. Then again, there may be few strikes at all. It’s hard to predict, say experts. Be prepared for the possibility of inconveniences, and don't book your connections between planes and ferries and other transport too tightly.
ATMs may fail.
This hasn’t happened yet, despite the scare stories on TV. Yet no one knows exactly what might happen if Greece were to leave the euro. Bring cash with you, meaning euros. Even if Greece switches to the drachma, the euro will still be accepted by restaurants and hotels. But be careful about carrying large amounts of cash on you while walking around. Make use of hotel safes or use pickpocket-resistant travel pouches whenever possible.
Greece is open for business in the meantime.
Most tourist attractions, whether beaches or museums, are far from the plazas where political unrest has happened, at least to date. To prove that Greece remains a wonderful place to visit, the government has created a website that features the stories of locals describing Athen's beautiful attractions, shops, and restaurants.
What are your thoughts about whether Greece is a good place to visit this summer?
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