If you’ve glanced at the news in the last six months you’ve probably heard of the Eurozone debt crisis, which has hit countries such as Greece and Spain especially hard.
With Greece’s potential exit from the Euro and frequent media reports of mass-unemployment, riots and unrest, some British holidaymakers are concerned that the unravelling situation could pose a threat to their Greek summer holiday plans.
How worried should they actually be? At the moment, the advice from travel experts is not to cancel your holiday or avoid making travel plans.
“If you were going to go to Greece anyway there’s no reason why you should automatically stop considering going. There are some things to consider but it’s not a case of ‘cancel everything and don’t go there,’ ”assures travel writer David Else, editor of several guidebooks in the Lonely Planet series. “The main thing to be aware of is there’s a general air of uncertainty in the country which will affect the local people, and holidaymakers will need to be aware that everything is not rosy in Greece right now. It affects the national psyche.”
Like much of the Mediterranean, Greece is traditionally seen as a safe country. And experts say that the current economic situation is unlikely to change that, with riots being very much the exception rather than the norm. While you might come across evidence of poverty and unrest, you’re unlikely to find yourself caught in any trouble if you stick to usual holiday haunts and use your common sense: “Demonstrations are very unlikely to affect tourists,” David adds. “The anger is not aimed at tourists like it might be in some parts of the world, and most will be in Athens rather than on the island. If you’re are walking around Athens seeing the sights and you see a demonstration, usual advice: steer clear of it, go somewhere else.”
Heirich Hall, archaeologist and Greek tour organiser, agrees: “London saw heavy riots in 2011, and cities like Berlin or Paris experience such events regularly – should that deter us from visiting them, or cause us to avoid other parts of Britain, Germany or France?” Much of the economic anger in Greece comes from public sector workers, and the economic situation does mean an increased likelihood of strikes, which could affect various industries including transport, airports and sea ports. It’s important to be aware of this when booking your travel insurance so that you know exactly which eventualities you’re covered for and which you aren’t. Where travel insurance is concerned, many of the most basic policies on the market don’t cover industrial action and/or travel delays.
“Insurance companies aren’t trying to catch you out, it’s just that there are so many different types of policy” says Peter Burgess of The Idol, Gocompare.com’s travel insurance partner. “It’s really important that you check the wording.” A good insurer should position all the benefits of each policy on their website and lay out their different areas of cover at the quote stage.
Some insurers, such as Holiday Extras, will cover industrial action as long as the strike wasn’t announced before you took out the policy (which is unlikely to be the case, as most strikes in Greece are called at short notice). Closures to attractions aren’t likely to affect package tours, and if you’re an independent traveller, going with the flow to a certain extent is a good idea anywhere.
The Foreign Office’s page on Greece has country-specific information relating to industrial action and security, which you should check before you go. It’s not just strike and delay cover you may need to pay some attention to in Greece, but medical cover too. Medical treatment in Greece, and other countries such as Spain and Cyprus, is considerably more expensive than some other countries in Europe such as France and Germany. If you’re concerned about medical costs, make sure your insurance company covers you for any pre-existing medical conditions, and assesses your cover needs based on the exact country you’re visiting, rather than bundling all European countries together.
Strikes aside, far from being a bad time to visit Greece, this summer may be a better time than ever if you want to experience Greek hospitality at its best. Those involved in Greece’s tourist trade insist that foreign visits are not only advised but actively welcomed. Of course, tourism means money and money is something Greece needs more than ever in this climate. Greece has a long history of accommodating a wide range of travellers, with tourism making up just short of 20 per cent of Greece’s GDP, and the islands, particularly the lesser-known Aegean islands, depending almost entirely on it for their income.
As for a possible currency change, while many Greeks resent an exit from the Euro, it is likely that a return to the Drachma would be to a tourist’s advantage. With just a little forward-thinking and flexibility, there’s no reason your Greek island holiday or sightseeing tour shouldn’t be as relaxing as you’d want it to be.
The advice in this article was correct at the time of going to press. For the most up-to-date travel information, you should always visit the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website and never travel anywhere against their advice.