© Maria Theofanopoulou

VAT, a special municipal tax, a property cap and rental time limits are among the actions Greece’s tourism stakeholders are demanding from the government in an attempt to regulate Airbnb-style activities which, they say, are distorting healthy market competition.

The Greek Tourism Confederation (SETE), representing the majority of Greece’s tourism enterprises, is once again calling on the government to take immediate action and amend the law which covers short-term rental operations in order to ensure fair play and protect tax-paying businesses.

In this direction SETE tabled proposals this week which include imposing value added tax, a municipal tax, withholding a tax for professional activity in short-term leasing, setting a cap on properties that can be leased by any one owner, setting a time limit for property rentals based on area which should not exceed 90 days per year and for islands with fewer than 10,000 residents 60 days.

Additionally, properties leased out as Airbnbs cannot offer other services. In the case of additional services provided, then the property must be listed as a tourist accommodation facility and as such must hold special certification and legal documentation. Violators should be fined 10,000 euros and double the fee for repeat violations. The same should apply to apartment blocks which operate in full as short-term rentals. 

SETE also recommends that a 5 percent tax on the rental rate be imposed – to be paid by the customer – which should be collected by the short-term rental platform.

The confederation went on to stress the need for regular inspections by a mixed team of tax and tourism ministry officials and suggests fines for violations.

“It goes without saying that SETE supports new investments as long as these are strictly subject to the existing legal framework. Any attempt at circumvention which distorts competition will find us on the opposite end. The state should make use of all its control mechanisms,” said SETE President Yiannis Retsos late last month on the news of a new Airbnb-style operation in the center of Athens that has included services in its offerings.

SETE President Yiannis Retsos.

Addressing the press for the first time in person after the of outbreak of Covid-19 on Monday, Retsos went on to add that companies are taking advantage of “loopholes” in the current law which allow the establishment of Airbnb-style ‘complexes’ offering dozens of apartments for short-term rental while at the same time providing additional hospitality services, including F&B services, wellness amenities and recreational activities.

“Instead of operating as hotels, they choose the short-term rental market… This leads to lost revenue from VAT for the Greek state and unfair competition for hotels,” he said.

In February, Greek hoteliers said they would be taking legal action against short-term rental companies which advertise and operate as hotels.

“We cannot continue to preserve a grey zone when it comes to short-term rentals whereby entrepreneurs acquire or lease entire blocks of apartments, transform them into rooms for rent, and by chance there is always a cafeteria on the ground floor serving breakfast; they advertise themselves as hotels on booking platforms online without having any such permit,” said Hellenic Chamber of Hotels (HCH) President Alexandros Vassilikos.

Echoing Vassilikos, the Peloponnese Tourism Organization (PTO) also called on the government to take immediate action and implement controls on Airbnb-style tourist rentals.

STAMA: ‘The needs of travelers are changing’

Greece’s Short-Term Accommodation Managers Association (STAMA) issued a statement on Wednesday in response to the proposals in which it says that SETE is in effect “requesting that hundreds of Greek companies (property managers) operating under a legal tax framework stop, that thousands of owners across the country who are taxed lose their additional income, and that any regional activities in short-term leasing such as construction, renovations, equipment, technology companies, cooperating companies from abroad stop”. 

In its statement, STAMA goes on to add that “we need to understand that the tourism product is changing as are the needs of travelers and no one can prevent the free movement of visitors worldwide and their right to choose the way they travel and where they stay.”

Initially as a way for crisis-hit Greeks to make a living, the last decade, Airbnb activities in Greece have soared with whole neighborhoods in Athens evolving into short-term rental areas. The once buzzing Athens neighborhood of Psyrri is a case in point, coming back to life as more and more buyers invest in short-term rentals, boutique hotels and accommodation facilities there.

Indicatively, bookings for Airbnbs across the country this summer are up by 232 percent placing Greece in the lead in Europe in terms of overall booking performance.

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The Greek Tourism Confederation (SETE) is calling on the government to introduce measures that will support enterprises reliant on tourism from the Russian market and find ways to compensate for losses as a result of the war in Ukraine.

In a letter to government officials, including Finance Minister Christos Staikouras and Tourism Minister Vassilis Kikilias, SETE is requesting that tourism operations doing business with Russia be allowed to suspend tax and insurance obligations (current and past installments); be given the option to suspend up to two-thirds of employment contracts (put staff on furlough); and suspend deadlines for the payment of issuance securities.  

Companies are eligible for support provided 55 percent of total turnover recorded in 2019 was generated from the Russian or neighboring markets. Though the Russian market is not a main source market, in pre-pandemic 2019, some 530,000 travelers from Russia visited Greece.

“As a result of the war in Ukraine, planning for these operations has been completely overturned. Russian and Ukrainian tourists are not expected to come to Greece this year, while we do not know what will happen to tourists coming from other countries,” said SETE.

“Given that it is objectively impossible shortly before the start of the tourist season for these companies to be able to fill the gap created by entering into new partnerships with other tourist markets, [these companies] should be supported in the near future, so that they can remain in operation and retain jobs.”

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Photo source: TUI Group (© Gregorschläger)

Leisure travel giant TUI Group is moving full speed ahead with plans to bring more than 3 million visitors to Greece this year – much earlier than ever before and exceeding pre-Covid 2019 levels.

Earlier this week on Crete, the company named a TUI fly Boeing 737-8 “Heraklion” after the island’s capital, where the group does business.

Irini Vasiliou, the godmother of the TUI fly “Heraklion” Boeing 737-8 aircraft. Photo source: TUI Group (© Gregorschläger)

On Sunday, also in Heraklion, TUI Cruises CEO Wybcke Meier launched the company’s “Mein Schiff 5” cruise ship with 1,650 guests which departed for a cruise to the Greek islands marking the start of the homeporting season.

In the meantime, TUI Fly Managing Director Oliver Lackmann said the group had added 62 new flights from Germany in April to Crete, Rhodes, Corfu, Kos and the Peloponnese. TUI will run some 40,000 flights to 19 Greek airports this year. About one-third of TUI fly flights from Germany to Greece will fly to the airports of Crete, Rhodes, Corfu, Kos and the Peloponnese. Lackmann added that apart from the daily TUI flights from Germany, TUI aircraft will fly to Greek destinations from Great Britain, Belgium, France, the Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands. 

“This year, we offer a total of about 40,000 flights to 19 Greek airports. 9,000 take-offs and landings are planned throughout Europe from and to Crete alone. However, we have scheduled flights to smaller destinations such as Samos, Skiathos and Zakynthos,” he said.

Photo source: TUI Group (© Gregorschläger)

The TUI aircraft naming ceremony together with the cruise departure marked the dynamic launch of this year’s tourism season for TUI, which is the leading  tour operator on the Greek market expanding it services this year more than ever before.

Additionally, TUI has included more than 4,500 hotels at 24 destinations in its packages for Greece and holds a strong position in the local hotel sector with about 40 hotels operating under the TUI brand, including Robinson, TUI Magic Life, TUI Blue, TUI Suneo and TUI Kids Clubs. It has also added this year two 5-star hotels: the TUI Blue Sensatori Atlantica Caldera Palace on Crete and the TUI Blue Sensatori Atlantica Dreams Resort on Rhodes.

Greek Tourism Minister Vassilis Kikilias. Photo source: TUI (© Gregorschläger)

Greek Tourism Minister Vassilis Kikilias. Photo source: TUI (© Gregorschläger)

“We are delighted that TUI is aiming for a record number of visitors with over 3 million to Greece,” said Tourism Minister Vassilis Kikilias, adding that travelers with TUI will be coming to Greece four weeks earlier this year.

“We have an excellent cooperation and a relationship of trust with TUI for more than five decades. We are optimistic and look forward to a successful tourism season,” he said.

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US Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt and Tourism Minister Vassilis Kikilias sign the Memorandum of Understanding.

Greece and the US are expanding their ties in tourism ahead of the season after Tourism Minister Vassilis Kikilias signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with US Ambassador to Greece, Geoffrey Pyatt, at the Acropolis Museum in Athens on Monday.

The five-year agreement comes three decades after the previous MoU and foresees the enhancement of bilateral cooperation in tourism aimed at boosting trade in travel services between the two countries.

Under the deal, Greece and the US will exchange best practices in travel & tourism and tourism promotion, in innovation and digitization of provided tourism services, as well as information on investment opportunities, tourism statistics, data research, tourism policy and developments in the global tourism market, including new tourism products and services, know-how for the development of specific forms of tourism and for upgraded tourism education and training.

“Today’s agreement with a duration of five years is another example of the seamless cooperation between our two countries in the field of tourism. It is at the same time, an essential step to make this cooperation even more targeted and efficient in specific areas, especially at this given time,” said the minister.

Kikilias went on to add that through the MoU, Greece hopes to boost bilateral trade in travel services. He underlined that cooperation between the two countries was already very strong as demonstrated by the record number of direct flights from the US – nine daily flights and more than 460,000 available airline seats.

Cooperation, said Kikilias not only concerns visitors but also investors, who have expressed interest in doing business in Greece “and we want to further strengthen the momentum between the two countries”.

“We are moving forward with sound steps towards the development of a sustainable tourism model with solid collaborations and care to address daily issues with the ultimate goal of creating added value for the Greek economy and for every household,” said Kikilias.

Photo source: @USAmbPyatt

Referring to the “updated” US-Greece MoU on tourism, Ambassador Pyatt said it “solidifies the outstanding relationship that we have with Greece as a tourism partner”.

“We saw Greece’s tourism economy rebound in unexpected ways last summer.  Americans, I am glad to say, flocked to Greece, thanks in part to the nine direct flights from Athens that American carriers added to their schedules,” he said. 

“This year, there will be a total of 14 direct flights from the United States to Athens.  Many of these will continue as late as October, ensuring that visitors have plenty of opportunity to take a well-deserved vacation and to enjoy the unique pleasures of this country,” said Pyatt.

The ambassador went on to add that cooperation in tourism between Greece and the US “go beyond just our airline carriers. US cruise companies, like Royal Caribbean and Disney, are ready to embrace the Greek summer… US hotel brands, including Best Western, Wyndham, Regency, Starwood, Conrad/Hilton and Marriott, have been present in Greece and are growing ready to open their doors for visitors from around the world… US firms linked to the tourism industry like Uber, Airbnb, VBRO, all contribute to the tourism economy creating jobs, bringing in revenue and providing an array of different experiences for visitors”. 

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As part of its drive to capitalize on dozens of public assets, the Public Properties Company (ETAD) announced this week that it had finalized a concession deal for the former Xenia Hotel in Edessa, Central Macedonia, with construction firm Elterga.

More specifically, ETAD CEO Stefanos Vlastos and Elterga President and Managing Director Paraskevas Tsampras signed the agreement which applies for a period of 30 years with the option to extend by an additional 20 years.

The Edessa property belonged to the national Xenia hotel chain, operated by the Greek National Tourism Organization (GNTO).

The aim, said Vlastos, is to convert the Xenia into a modern hotel unit that will contribute to the tourist development of Edessa and the wider region of Central Macedonia. 

The investment – up on the going price up by 55 percent – is budgeted at more than 3.5 million euros and foresees the facility’s reconstruction into a 4-star or above hotel with a capacity of 40 rooms, restaurant, gym, spa, indoor and outdoor pools.

“After years of neglect, today we managed to take the first step, to give new lease on life to the Xenia Edessa for the benefit of the city. We are particularly pleased that through our cooperation with a group of companies experienced in the field of hotels and construction we will contribute to its revival and significantly stimulate the tourist and economic development of the region,” said Vlastos.

“We are very pleased as the signing of the contract gives us the opportunity to proceed with the reconstruction of an important property of great architectural value that is a landmark for the city of Edessa,” said Tsampras.

The Edessa Xenia was constructed in 1963 by architect Iason Rizos and is located in the heart of Macedonia near the Kaimaktsalan Ski Center, Lake Agra and the traditional settlement of Agios Athanasios.

Xenia history

From 1950 to 1974, the GNTO carried out a program of hotel and motel construction to boost Greece’s tourism development.

The Xenia hotels were known by their high quality and aesthetics and constructed within the framework of a tourism policy that aimed for Greece’s economic development.

Built in prime locations, they had an ideal positioning, combined indoor with open-air spaces, internal patios and courtyards, large windows, balconies that offered the best views of each location.

Over 40 “Xenias” constituted a unique network of complexes that boasted excellent architecture and construction.

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Greek Tourism Minister Vassilis Kikilias. Photo source: Greek Tourism Ministry

Greece is ready to welcome visitors as the tourism season kicks off earlier thanks to ongoing efforts by the ministry and industry stakeholders, said Tourism Minister Vassilis Kikilias during the naming ceremony of a TUI fly aircraft on Crete on Monday.

Speaking during the event held at the Nikos Kazantzakis Airport, Kikilias reiterated the ministry’s goals for the year ahead which include extending the tourism season, expanding destinations, and moving ahead with the implementation of a sustainable tourism model.

Global tour operator TUI named one of its Boeing 737-8 aircraft “Heraklion”, after the capital of Crete, where the group does business.

Oliver Lackmann, Chief Flight Operations Officer TUI Airline, with godmother Irini Vasiliou, and the TUI fly crew of the new Boeing 737-8 on Crete. Photo source: TUI (© Gregorschläger)

Oliver Lackmann, Chief Flight Operations Officer TUI Airline, with godmother Irini Vasiliou, and the TUI fly crew of the new Boeing 737-8 on Crete. Photo source: TUI (© Gregorschläger)

“There is a positive trend in demand at the moment and that is why we’ve brought the first arrivals four weeks earlier,” said Managing Director TUI Fly Oliver Lackmann. He added that TUI Group is planning on bringing about 3 million visitors to Greece and that it had added 62 new flights for April to Crete, Rhodes and Kos.

In total TUI this year expects to operate some 40,000 flights to 19 Greek airports with 9,000 from European destinations from and to Crete alone.

The traditional water arch welcomed the new Boeing 737-8 of TUI fly at Heraklion airport. Photo source: TUI (© Gregorschläger)

The traditional water arch welcomed the new Boeing 737-8 of TUI fly at Heraklion airport. Photo source: TUI (© Gregorschläger)

Kikilas called on tourism stakeholders – hoteliers, travel agents, airlines and travel agencies – to make a coordinated, organized and strong effort every day, so that more visitors come to Greece.

The minister expressed his optimism about welcoming visitors earlier than ever before, adding that the goal in 2022 will be to attract “more travelers, more higher-income visitors, who respect customs and culture, love Greece and will come again and again, thus supporting the hundreds of thousands of people active in tourism”. 

On Sunday, also in Heraklion, Crete, Kikilias and TUI Cruises CEO Wybcke Meier marked the start of the homeporting season on TUI Cruises’ “Mein Schiff 5”. With 1,650 guests on board, the cruise ship departed the port of Heraklion for a cruise to the Greek islands.

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Santorini island, Greece. Photo source: @Aegean Islands

One in four travelers chose to holiday on one of the South Aegean islands placing the region in the lead in terms of Greece’s arrivals, overnight stays and revenues in 2021, said Regional Governor Giorgos Hatzimarkos recently.

Citing Bank of Greece data, Hatzimarkos said the region surpassed by 30 percent the other regions with regard to tourist spending accounting for one-third of overall revenues.

The South Aegean, which includes such popular islands as Karpathos, Milos, Mykonos, Rhodes and Santorini, also outdid other regions in terms of spending per visit and overnight expenditure – stronger by 13.2 percent and 17.1 percent, respectively.

According to Hatzimarkos, the South Aegean Region was the most popular destination accounting for the most visits overall compared to the country’s other regions and in the lead in terms of overnight stays.

South Aegean Region Governor George Hatzimarkos.

South Aegean Governor George Hatzimarkos

“The Bank of Greece results confirm what we experienced during the summer of 2021, when, with lots of work, seriousness, responsibility and cooperation, we conquered the highest and most difficult peak of Greek tourism,” said Hatzimarkos, adding that it was the result of a “regional tourism policy formulated and implemented in cooperation with all productive forces”.

“Accounting for one-third of total travel receipts and a quarter of visits to Greece, the South Aegean region spearheaded the country’s tourism recovery effort, supporting the national effort in the best possible manner,” he said.  

“We are entering 2022 with the impetus given to us by our success… building, planning and working for our next wins,” he concluded.

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Photo source: @Cruise Lines International Association

Global cruise and tourism associations welcomed the announcement by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that it had dropped all guidance for cruise travel.

After two years of warnings against cruise travel, the CDC last week updated its previous “Cruise Ship Travel Health Notice”, which had sparked the angered reaction of the industry late last year.

In December the CDC had raised its Covid-19 warning level for cruise travel to high-risk 4 advising against cruising even for those who have been vaccinated.

Commenting on the announcement Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) said: “From the onset of the pandemic, CLIA’s cruise line members have prioritized the health and safety of their guests, crew, and the communities they visit and are sailing today with health measures in place that are unmatched by virtually any other commercial setting.”

It went on to add that the “decision by the US CDC to remove the travel health notice for cruising recognizes the effective public health measures in place on cruise ships”.

Photo Source: @CLIA

World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) President & CEO Julia Simpson said “the decision by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to remove the travel health notice for cruising is well-deserved recognition that the industry has been sailing millions of travelers for many months with highly effective protocols that make cruising among the world’s safest forms of socializing and travel.”

Simpson went on to add that CDC’s decision will “help level the playing field between cruise and land-based vacation options” for the first time since March 2020 and that it was good news for the extensive network of suppliers, many of whom are small businesses, that depend on cruise for their success.

Meanwhile, speaking to media, CDC Spokesperson Dave Daigle said travelers were advised to make their own risk assessment when choosing to travel on a cruise ship, “much like they do in all other travel settings”.

The CDC also recommends travelers update their Covid vaccination before boarding a cruise ship.

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Vigla Hotel, Amorgos

The Vigla Hotel on the Greek island of Amorgos has announced that it will reopen its doors and welcome guests on April 10.

Located in the village of Tholaria on the north part of the island, Vigla Hotel offers high quality services and authentic hospitality in its recently renovated rooms, as well as stunning views of the Aegiali bay.

“We know that now, more than ever, travelers are looking for carefree safe holidays. We are here to make it happen,” Vigla Hotel Managing Director Despina Giannakopoulou said.

The village of Tholaria and the bay of Aegiali on Amorgos.

The hotel has maintained all its safety-conscious measures to ensure maximum safety for its guests and employees against the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

For example, the hotel offers disinfectant dispensers for guests in all rooms and public areas as well as contactless procedures such as online check in and digitalized menus supported by QR code or special links.

Photo source: Vigla Hotel

Meanwhile, Vigla Hotel provides its guests with the opportunity to experience new activities via the Dream Blue, its specialized travel agency promoting the beauties of Amorgos.

“Aiming to make nature-based physical activity accessible to all, we propose hiking routes and road trips to the amazing nature of Amorgos with our expert guides. In addition, we offer a number of indoor activities such as cooking and dance lessons,” Giannakopoulou said. More information is available on the website of Dream Blue here.

To celebrate its opening, Vigla Hotel has launched a special campaign with an exclusive offer of 15 percent discount for long stays.

In addition, the hotel continues last year’s #be_a_traveller_again offer with a 10 percent discount.

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Greek health authorities said this week that Covid-19 measures would remain as is through to the end of the month and that the possibility of a fourth booster shot for the whole population was under consideration.

Infectious disease expert Vana Papaevangelou said the country’s Covid committee had decided against lifting any more measures until the end of the month and after Orthodox Easter.

However, despite ruling out the need for a fourth vaccination against the virus last week, Papaevangelou said on Thursday that the committee had “begun to discuss the 4th dose. “We will be in line with the rest of Europe, but in the autumn, we will probably need a new dose for everyone”, she said. “It still not time to forget about Covid,” she added. 

The Greek National Public Health Organization (EODY) reported 21,099 new coronavirus cases on Thursday and 51 new deaths.

Papaevangelou went on to add that health experts were concerned about the average age of new incidents which had dropped to 41 years, adding that on the positive side, cases in children under 12 remained steady. She added that in the last week there had been a 15 percent rise in hospitalizations due to Covid.

On her part, Deputy Health Minister Mina Gaga said pressure was growing “considerably” on the public health system with more than 500 hospitalizations a day due to Covid-19. 

She added there was great demand for antiviral drugs for Covid with more than 700 applications per day.

Health Minister: Government soon to present framework for gradual lifting of measures

Speaking to SKAI on Friday, Greek Health Minister Thanos Plevris informed that the government is the coming days will present a framework for the gradual lifting of Covid-19 restrictions.

“This is so that as summer approaches, the country will be closer to normalcy,” he said, adding that measures will most likely be lifted in May.

The health minister clarified that the vaccination or recovery certificate will not be scrapped. However, the government is considering to partially abolish it as a condition to access indoor areas (restaurants, cafes, bars) during the summer months.

Regarding the use of face masks indoors, Plevris said it is a “relatively mild measure” that will not be lifted immediately.

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