© 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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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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Greek tourism enterprises are not seeing cancellations for vacations this season, but new bookings have been delayed due to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, the president of the Greek Tourism Confederation (SETE), Yiannis Retsos, said on Monday.

“The development of bookings for 2022 was very positive at the beginning of the year… However, the unexpected war in Ukraine occurred and now we have a ‘freeze’ in bookings,” Retsos told journalists during a press conference focused on the expectations and challenges of the sector in 2022.

SETE’s president highlighted that no forecasts can be made for Greece’s 2022 tourism year since the industry is moving in “uncharted waters” due to the war in Ukraine.

However, he pointed out that after two years of restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the appetite for travel this year is high and international travel demand is expected to recover.

“If the (Russian-Ukrainian) conflict stops in the near future, I believe that we will see a strong resumption of bookings, perhaps even at better levels than before,” Retsos said, adding that regardless of the war, 2022 is expected to be another year based on last minute bookings due to the pandemic.

Despite the delay in bookings, Retsos appeared optimistic and pointed out that Greek tourism numbers from the beginning of the year were showing that the industry was on a path leading to the levels of 2019 and even exceeding them.

With regard to data from Germany and Britain, Greece’s top two tourist markets, Retsos said early bookings from the UK market are at a very satisfying level. Early bookings from Germany at the moment are at a lower level but are expected to pick up in the coming weeks. He added that the Scandinavian market is also showing a high interest for holidays to Greece while the Polish market at the moment remains a “question mark” due to the war in Ukraine.

With regard to road tourism, he said that it is unclear at the moment whether people from the Balkan markets will travel to Northern Greece this year.

He also referred to the positive signs from the US market considering the number of flights to Greece scheduled for the season.

Concern about inflation, energy costs

Moreover, Retsos expressed his strong concern about the rise in inflation and the possible increase of interest rates that will affect the loan obligations of hotel enterprises. He stressed that hotels, having low revenues for the last two years due to the pandemic, are operating right now in an environment with an 8 percent increase of the minimum wage for 2022 and increased energy costs.

Retsos informed that SETE raised these issues in a recent meeting attended by the ministers of tourism, labor and finance, and discussed how to reduce the impact on tourism businesses. At the moment, the government has agreed to extend the Syn-ergasia job retention program in Greece for April-May, while discussions on reducing VAT rates for services provided in the travel package (accommodation, F&B, transport) are also taking place.

Loopholes in short-term rental law

SETE’s president also referred to the loopholes in the legislation that involves the short-term rental sector in Greece.

He stressed that companies are taking advantage of certain loopholes and are opening complexes with dozens of apartments for short-term rental while at the same time offering hospitality services, including F&B services and wellness amenities.

“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.

Greek hotels see worker shortage

Retsos also focused on the shortage of employees in the tourism sector. Hotels alone in 2021 saw a some 22 percent lack of employees, based on research conducted by the SETE Institute with data from ITEP (Institute of Tourism Research and Forecasts).

Aiming to address the issue, Retsos announced that SETE and Marketing Greece will soon launch an online campaign to raise awareness on the major economic importance of tourism for the country.

Greek Tourism 2030 | Action Plan

Highlighting the need for long-term strategic planning for the Greek tourism sector, which must include synergies and cooperation with the country’s regions, SETE’s president announced that the confederation is scheduled to present its “Greek Tourism 2030 | Action Plan” at the 7th Delphi Economic Forum on Saturday, April 9.

According to SETE’s action plan, under certain conditions, Greece could attract up to 50 million visitors by 2030 while revenue from Greek tourism could rise to an annual 27 billion euros.

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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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Culture Minister Lina Mendoni at the Ottoman bath in the castle of Ioannina.

The Greek Culture Ministry has announced a strategic plan to restore and promote the landmark Ioannina castle in Western Greece.

“A set of projects and studies carried out in the area, are expected to change both the castle and the city,” Culture Minister Lina Mendoni said during a recent on-site inspection visit.

Among the projects run by the local Ephorate of Antiquities is the restoration and promotion of the Ottoman bath, budgeted at 1.25 million euros and funded by the Epirus regional operational program 2014-2020; the unification of the two fortresses in the northeast (Aslan Pasha mosque) and the southeast (Its Kale) sides; and the launch of studies for the renewal and modernization of the exhibitions of the Municipal and the Byzantine museums.

The ministry’s program also includes the launch of studies for the restoration of the Ottoman library and the Medrese, which is part of the Aslan Pasha mosque.

“The Castle features excellent spaces with rich history that should open to the citizens and visitors of Ioannina for sustainable use in collaboration with city organizations and private bodies,” Mendoni said.

While in Epirus, the minister met with Epirus Governor Alexandros Kachrimanis and Ioannina Mayor Moeses Elisaf.

The ancient theater of Dodoni.

Mendoni also visited the archaeological site of Dodoni where the ministry is carrying out restoration works worth some 4.79 million euros.

It should be mentioned that the region of Epirus is carrying out works in the area worth a total of 16 million euros and funded by the National Strategic Reference Framework 2014-2020.

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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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The Greek National Tourism Organization’s (GNTO) branch in Scandinavia has been named Norway’s Best Foreign Tourism Office for 2021 at the annual Grand Travel Awards (GTA).

The awards are organized for the last 25 years by the Norwegian and Swedish editions of Travel News, a leading travel magazine in Scandinavia.

Travel News recently presented GNTO and all the winners in its online edition.

“Greece is one of the best tourism destinations for the Scandinavians,” the director of the GNTO service in Scandinavia Pavlos Mourmas said.

He also referred to Greece’s successful handling of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

“We tried to meet the needs of people and inspire them by publishing new travel stories through our advertising campaigns ‘Greece from Home’ in 2020; ‘All you want is Greece’ and ‘Greece does have a winter’ in 2021,” he added.

After two years of absence due to the pandemic, the GTA awards ceremony will take place in Sweden on April 26.

The awards will be handed over to the winners by Travel News CEO David Kurtz.

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