This year’s sharp rise in numbers has been partly attributed to a 40 percent increase in travelers on cruise ships, mostly from the US.
However, it is not just Westerners who are fueling this tourism boom. Seated in his air-conditioned Athens office, Andreas Andreadis, who heads the association of Greek tourism enterprizes, SETE, says much of Greece’s new traffic arises from the lifting of visa restrictions in long-haul emerging markets such as China, Turkey and Russia.
Russian arrivals at regional airports alone have shot up by 230 percent this year.
“In Moscow, 13,000 visas are issued for Greece every day,” Andreadis says. “The volume is so high that SETE has employed 20 of its own people just to help stamp visas.”
Airlines have got more than 1 million extra seats and scores of new routes to the country, including to places such as Mykonos Island.
“We are linked to 14 countries and 28 destinations. There are daily flights to London, Milan and Istanbul,” says Athanasios Kollias, the air traffic controller at the island’s newly expanded airport. “From now on, 120 charters are expected every week. In May the number of passengers flying in from abroad more than doubled.”
Summer bookings to Greece from Germany and the UK have also soared. Some of the 15 percent increase from Germany was attributed to German Chancellor Angela Merkel — because of her insistence on austerity, exhorting her compatriots to visit the country. This month, Lufthansa chose Athens for the inaugural flight of its new flagship plane, the B747-8, the largest aircraft in the world.
For Andreadis, the key to sustaining this boom is quality. On Super Paradise beach, Mykonos’s favored spot for the cool and trendy, the emphasis on improved service is everywhere to be seen. There is a champagne bar at one end and a massage tent at the other, while holidaymakers lounge on new sun beds, under new thatched umbrellas, and take in the turquoise waters below.
For people like Nikos Xydakis, who has run a beach taverna for the past 40 years, the new look is not just about survival.
“This year we had to do everything, even clean the beach because the state is in no position to help. But in life everything changes. The crisis has played a big role. Our tourists have changed and we have changed too,” Xydakis says.