UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE: STAY OFF OUR ISLAND!
It’s like being jammed between the rock and the hard place, but, at least at this moment in history, the world-famous Cretan Hospitality is being withdrawn by thousands upon thousands of local residents after learning that tourism to our island will reopen in July.
The “Rock”: Cretan tourism, which fills the tills of the country with billions of those sorely needed Euro banknotes.
The “Hard Place”: Cretan tourism, bringing planeloads of visitors from virus-ridden countries to our island.
According to a quick, random survey via telephone, messenger and email, this reporter, along with his Greek researcher (my wife) find that the overwhelming majority of local residents feel it is much too early to start bringing tourists to Crete. Many expressed strong feelings to forego a 2020 tourist season altogether.
“We worked like hell to stay safe, following the rules of self-quarantine, wearing masks and gloves, and we were successful,” one anonymous resident said. “Now all could be for naught if some tourist comes in carrying an undetected virus.”
The reason why Crete has been relatively safe during this world-wide pandemic is the local government moved fast as soon as the seriousness of the situation was known. Immediately, the entire country went in lockdown, and its citizens adhered to all the new rules and regulations. Pharmacies across Crete made sure to get quick deliveries of face masks and surgical gloves, and, along with major supermarket chains, all forms of disinfectants were quickly ordered, social distancing was enforced and shelves were rapidly re-stocked after initial sell-outs. In addition, the government acted quickly in restructuring and reinforcing its healthcare system by hiring additional staff personnel, and purchasing proper protective equipment and ventilators for its personnel, as well as immediately contacting Chinese healthcare officers to get all the latest updates on Covid-19.
Now, after this impressive start of doing everything right, and achieving such positive results, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, according to many, seems to be throwing caution to the wind, by announcing the re-opening of tourism in July. In addition, he is being accused by local residents of being too acquiescent to the demands of special interest groups in the tourism industry, both of this country and others, and has decreed that tourism will resume July 1, much too soon according to the majority of the local populace.
As reported in an interview with CNN, Mr. Mitsotakis said: "The tourism experience this summer may be slightly different from what you've had in previous years, but you can still get a fantastic experience in Greece.”
Opening up to tourism inevitably means opening the country up to people potentially carrying Covid-19, but Mr. Mitsotakis said he hopes “current testing methods can be enhanced to reduce the risk.” At the moment, plans are for every international traveler to be screened for Covid-19 upon arriving in Athens, where they will be immediately herded into a room where everyone's throat will be swabbed and cataloged. Those with “positive” results will be quarantined.
But what about Crete? Local people feel that smaller airports, such as Iraklion and Hania, and other local Cretan airfields, are not equipped to offer that same level of screening. “We will take our own steps to protect ourselves as best we can,” said one disgruntled resident of Hersonisos, one of Crete’s top resort towns. Refusing to be named, the resident went on to say: “There is no way the police will be able to enforce social distancing once throngs of people from England, Germany, France, and other seriously virus-affected countries invade our shores. I, for one, will definitely keep as far away from tourists as I can.”
For sure, the re-opening of tourism is a piece of hot coal for Mr. Mitsotakis, politically speaking. If his dictum is in any way connected to a new surge of virus victims, or even ONE in Crete, it’s his votes that will be contaminated in the next election.
At least one government official, Finance Minister Christos Staikouras, indicated that reopening tourism this year is not absolutely necessary. “Although the Greek economy may shrink 10 to 13% this year, the country can withstand the loss. Mr. Staikouras said special measures such as a sales tax cut to 13% from 24% for restaurants and cafes will help lessen the burden of lost income. “We aim for the economy to gradually return to the dynamic it had before the health crisis, by next February,” he said.
While the economy of Crete is predominantly based on services and tourism, agriculture also plays an important role and Crete is one of the few Greek islands that can support itself independently, even without the tourism industry. In many regions of Greece, viticulture and olive groves, of course, are significant and oranges, citrons, bananas and avocadoes are also cultivated for export. Dairy products, like the coveted Greek yogurt, and other exports are important to the local economy, such as a number of specialty cheeses including feta, mizithra, anthotyros, graviera and kefalotyri which are enjoyed around the world.
The bottom line is local residents will still welcome its visitors with that warm hospitality and special Medditterian cuisine -- but wait until next year.