Greek financial crisis has yet to affect tourism

The Greek financial crisis that has lead to a weeklong bank closure is worrying U.S. tourists planning to visit the Mediterranean nation but has yet to lead to widespread travel cancellations, according to travel experts.

The State Department issued a warning over the weekend to Americans traveling to Greece, suggesting that tourists bring more than one way to make payments and carry enough cash for emergencies and unexpected delays.

The warning also urged U.S. tourists to stay clear of demonstrations and rallies.

Tuesday was the second day of a weeklong bank closure that has imposed a limit of about $66 a day in ATM withdrawals by Greeks, aimed at keeping the country's tottering system from collapsing. The Athens stock exchange is also closed for a week.

Despite the State Department warnings and the financial uncertainty, travel agents said they have seen no widespread cancellations of trips to Greece.

Ronnie Liadis, president of Liadis Travel in Newtown Square, Pa., said the major concern for many of her clients currently in Greece or planning to travel this week was whether they would be able to withdraw cash from ATMs.

But the limit on withdrawals seems only aimed at people with Greek bank accounts, not international travelers, and credit cards are still widely accepted, she said.

“I think the country of Greece is such a beautiful country, the people are so warm and friendly and tourism is such an important part of their financial state that it would be a shame to miss out on any opportunity to visit,” she said.

Tourism is a vital industry in Greece, representing about 17% of the country’s gross domestic product and supporting an estimated 70,000 jobs, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council, a London-based nonprofit that researches the global impact of tourism.

Although foreign visitor numbers have been volatile over the past 20 years, tourism has been on the rise recently. The country is expected to attract 20.6 million international visitors this year, with 26.7 million expected by 2025, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council.

The most recent data note that about 377,000 U.S. citizens visited Greece in 2013, according to the National Travel and Tourism Office of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

It may be too early to see the effect of the Greek financial crisis on tourists’ plans to visit the country because most trips are scheduled several months in advance, said Guido Adelfio, president of Maryland-based Bethesda Travel Center.

But he said he has seen an uptick in trips to Greece this travel season, a surge he attributed to the increased value of the U.S. dollar in Greece, as well as a fear that Greece’s financial situation could worsen even more in the future. 

“Our clients like nice things, and they worry that in two, three, five years, there will be disinvestment,” he said.

To read more about travel, tourism and the airline industry, follow me on Twitter at @hugomartin.

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