Traveling to Greece Soon? Here’s What You Should Know
While the EU battles out the terms of a bailout with Greece, and everyone awaits the results of Sunday’s summit, many travelers who are scheduled to head to the country for vacation (or who have renewed interest in visiting) are concerned that they’ll have to stage a Grexit of their own, and cancel their plans.
It’s difficult to predict what next week will bring, but for now tourists and operators in Greece are saying that, on the islands at least, it’s business as usual. Maria Nikolakaki, founder of the luxury villa rental company Beyond Spaces, currently based on Mykonos, says that the island is as crowded as ever with bold-name travelers. “Hakkasan is fully booked, the weather is super, and the ATMS are working!” She was e-mailing from the airport where she was waiting for one of her clients to arrive, a notable New York-based fashion designer whose name she could not reveal.
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“So far,” she continued, “there have been no disruptions on any island that I know of in regards to transportation and services. There is a tremendous attempt going on here to preserve what is the largest industry in the country: tourism. My advice to travelers for the next few days is to simply follow through with their itinerary, and carefully double-check their travel connections, hotel bookings, and any services requested.
“I would also advise they carry cash,” she said. “Although the capital controls of 60 euros ($66) a day don’t apply to foreign issued cards, some ATMs can run out of cash at times, or there may be long waiting lines, especially in Athens. In addition—and this is something I always recommend—have comprehensive, full travel insurance in place.” In a later e-mail, Nikolakaki clarified that she was largely speaking of the lack of cancellations in Greece’s luxury travel market; there have been more in the mass-market segment.
Iasson Tsakonas, an entrepreneur and real estate developer who owns a new boutique hotel called Beach House and a complex of architecturally ambitious villas on Antiparos, agreed. “I can only speak about my clients, who tend to fly here by helicopter and represent the high end of the market,” he said. “There haven’t been any cancellations so far. This summer has actually been an all-time high in terms of villa bookings.” He also confirmed that the islands, in general, “tend to be detached from the day-to-day political issues that happen in the capital. I suppose you can call us the independent state of Antiparos.”
Related: How to Travel to the Greek Islands
Mary Kay Schilling, deputy editor of Town & Country magazine in Manhattan, who just returned from a trip to Athens and Lesbos, said that the crisis she witnessed on Lesbos was the influx of refugees fleeing Syria. For fellow travelers, the biggest concern was whether or not ATM machines would run out of money. “They didn’t while I was there,” she said. “But there was the feeling that maybe it would happen the next day.”
It was in Athens that Schilling felt more of the stress of the current economic crisis. “I didn’t feel unsafe, but I was more wary of petty crime,” she said. But she was reassured by the conviction that “a lot of places would do whatever they could to help tourists, especially the high-end hotels.”
Elena Papanicolaou is the founder of Fly Me to the Moon Travel, a luxury travel operator based in Athens that creates bespoke trips throughout the country. “If the situation gets ugly for Greece, I would say avoid Syntagma Square, the central square where the Parliament building is located and where most of the major demonstrations are held,” she advised. “But even if you are staying at one of the five-star properties on the Square, you should be completely safe. You might not be able to get out for a while if there is a demonstration, but you can just stay in and have dinner on the rooftop.” She added, “Greeks might fight amongst themselves, but until now it hasn’t gotten violent.”
Gisela Williams is based in Berlin and covers Germany and its surrounding countries for Travel + Leisure.