Is the threat of social unrest in Greece, particularly Athens, discouraging clients from visiting there?
With Greece set to hold its national election on May 6, the first since its financial crisis began sparking public protests, Travel Market Report looked at how travel suppliers and agents who sell the popular tourist destination are weathering the situation.
While many tour operators report that business to Greece has fallen since the unrest began, they note that high airfares to Europe are also a likely contributor. Some see business to Greece rebounding.
Agents said interest in Greece is not declining, though some are advising clients to be wary of the situation and to book a land tour or cruise rather than travel on their own.
A message from Silversea
The unrest in Athens prompted Silversea Cruises to send a message of reassurance to travel agents last week about the city’s safety as a cruise port.
“Last season during the taxi strikes and demonstrations in Athens, Silversea worked with our excellent ground operator and hotel partners to ensure all guests were assisted in reaching the ship efficiently and on time,” Darius Mehta, vice president of air and land programs, stated in the message.
“This year with that experience under our belt I have no fear in recommending a cruise departure or arrival in one of my favorite cities,” he continued.
Unrest or high airfares to blame?
While Silversea declined to elaborate on why it decided to send out the message, responses from other suppliers indicated that reassuring clients about Greece may not be unwarranted.
Interest in travel to Greece has fallen 40% compared to last year for Travcoa and YMT Vacations, according to Richard Genevese, vice present and chief marketing officer for both operators. This has prompted the firms to cut back the number of departures to Greece, “so we manage the supply and demand equation better.”
“Greece is taking a hit because of the unrest there,” Genevese said.
Unrest may not be the only reason, he added.
“Our overall Europe business is flat; Europe in general is not as strong. The high air prices are having an impact, as Americans are choosing to travel closer to home or to less expensive destinations like Asia or India.”
Expressing a similar viewpoint, Tom Armstrong, Tauck’s communications director commented, “If you’re hearing business is down in Greece, is it a function of unrest or higher airfares?”
Globus plans marketing push
At the Globus family of brands, bookings for Greece are down about 20% from two years ago, even while bookings for Israel, another destination known for volatility, are up 20%, according to Steve Born vice president.
But Globus is “bullish on a rebound to Greece,” he said. The company is planning “dedicated brochures and marketing support for Greece and the region in the coming months, with our full range of Greece tours, cruise tours and combinations with Greece and other nearby countries.”
Promotions pay off
Stepped-up marketing appears already to be paying off for Homeric Tours, whose tours and packages to Greece have been on the upswing since March, according to vice president of operations Alexandra Tsakanikas.
The increased sales are due to heavy advertising, good value and efforts to educate consumers about the reality on the ground, especially in Athens, she said.
“People may be a little misinformed about what is going on in Greece – the demonstrations are not an everyday occurrence,” she said, noting that most take place at Athens’ Constitution Square. “Once they call and we explain the situation, people definitely feel more at ease.”
Homeric has been “pretty busy lately and, hopefully, we will see that trend continue,” Tsakanakis said.
Helping to drive the uptick is promotional pricing from the operator’s hotel and cruise partners, she added. As an example, the five-star Hotel Grand Bretagne in Athens, which is next to the Greek Parliament building, recently offered three nights for the price of two.
Others also see rebound
At Virgin Vacations, sales are improving on Athens and Greek Island cruise packages, according to president Nigel Osborne.
“Greece and Athens business has picked up,” he said. “It is still a great value destination. Our 10-day Greek Islander, to Santorini, Mykonos and Athens, is priced from $1,669 with roundtrip airfare from New York.”
Insight Vacations is also seeing a rebound in business to Greece, said president Marc Kazlauskas.
“It seems the images of demonstrations turned some travelers off, but since things have calmed down considerably, interest has come back,” he said.
To keep business up during the downturn, Insight Vacations ran “aggressive air promotions with partner airlines,” he said. But consumer jitters over Greece did not impact other pricing, itineraries or number of departures, according to Kazlauskas.