Greek Tourism Rebounds As Millions Flock to Islands

The Greek tourism industry has rebounded as millions of tourists have flocked to the islands last summer, beating pre-pandemic levels.

Tourism rebound

With the summer tourism season having officially ended, Greece is looking back at a successful couple of months in which millions of visitors flocked to destinations all over the country.

In fact, the surge in tourist numbers was dramatic that in some Greek places the number of visitors was even higher than during the summer of 2019, the last ‘normal’ year before the global corona pandemic halted tourism across the globe.

beach milos greece greek tourism
A quiet beach on the island of Milos. ©Paliparan

Islands

According to Greek newspaper Kathimerini, the effects were mostly felt on the islands, some of which even became overcrowded.

Kathimerini reported: “The crowds that gathered in some Aegean islands this summer have tested their infrastructure to the limit and raised fears that excessive crowds will, in the end, harm their economy.”

Among the islands which saw more visitors this summer than during the pre-pandemic year of 2019 were Santorini, Naxos, Patmos and Kea (Tzia).

According to the newspaper, it led to “an almost constant traffic gridlock, large queues to get into restaurants, cafes and bars, crowded narrow lanes, occasional electricity blackouts, water shortages and persistent odors from the overwhelmed sewage systems”.

naxos town port
Naxos Town. ©Paliparan

Paros

Kathimerini highlighted Paros as example. One of the most popular Cycladic Islands, Paros has a permanent population of just 13,000 people but welcomed 130,000 tourists during August, with visitors thus outnumbering the locals 10 to 1.

The island of Patmos, famous for being the location of the Cave of the Apocalypse from where St. John the Theologian penned the Book of Revelations, posted similar numbers.

Patmos is home to just 3,000 inhabitants but saw 30,000 tourists arriving in August.

paros greek tourist tourism numbers greece
A tasty Greek lunch on the island of Paros. ©Paliparan

Contrast

The successful summer season of 2021 is a stark contrast to 2020 when Greece posted record low tourist numbers. That year, visitor numbers were down by 85 percent compared to pre-pandemic levels.

In 2020, the difference was especially stark when it came to tourists from non-EU countries as they were down 92.7% in July compared to the same month in 2019.

astypalea town
The island of Astypalea. ©Paliparan

Americans

Especially the return this summer of big-spending American tourists has been welcomed by Greek hoteliers and other businesses in the tourism sector.

With borders having reopened for non-EU visitors and the EU green pass system for vaccinated travellers making travel a lot easier for many European tourists in these challenging times, the surge in tourists was something I expected.

Travel forums and websites – especially those tailored to US travellers – have been abuzz with all kinds of Greek stories for months.

What I’ve heard from friends working in the Greek tourism industry, the Americans – together with tourists from Eastern Europe – have been the ones who contributed most to the remarkable rebound, while visitor numbers from many Western European countries such as the UK are still lagging behind.

cephalonia kefalonia beach greece greek tourist levels numbers tourism
A gorgeous beach on the island of Cephalonia (Kefalonia). ©Paliparan

My take

With Greek entry requirements being eased this year, it is no surprise that tourist levels have rebounded.

Although I love travelling to Greece and visited the country twice this spring, I purposely decided not to travel there this summer. I absolutely hate overcrowded tourist destinations and I tend to visit the most popular of places off-season only.

When it comes to Greece, I do anyway believe that the best months to visit are actually spring and autumn – and not summer. In these months it will be lively enough in most places but there aren’t any big crowds while the weather will be warm enough to enjoy the outdoors without it getting too hot.

My summer trip to Greece last year was simply an exception to the rule as 2020 was such an unusual year that you could even visit the most popular Greek islands without encountering any crowds whatsoever.

kastellorizo town megisti
Sunrise over Kastellorizo, one of the islands which I visited in the summer of 2020. ©Paliparan

Conclusion

It’s great to hear that the Greek tourism sector has enjoyed a good summer this year and that tourist numbers have rebounded.

Even though I personally hate tourist crowds and can certainly understand the complaints about some Greek islands getting a bit too overcrowded, it’s a welcome relief for many hoteliers, tavern owners and others dependent on tourists who struggled throughout 2020.

It will certainly be interesting to see how Greek tourist levels will develop over the autumn and in 2022!

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Koen

Koen works as a freelance journalist covering south-eastern Europe and is the founding father and editor-in-chief of Paliparan. As a contributor to some major Fleet Street newspapers and some lesser known publications in the Balkans, he travels thousands of miles each year for work as well as on his personal holidays. Whether it is horse riding in Kyrgyzstan’s Tian Shan mountains, exploring the backstreets of Bogotá, or sipping a glass of moschofilero in a Greek beachside taverna, Koen loves to immerse himself into the local culture, explore new places and eat and drink himself around the world.

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