Thu May 31, 2012
Tourism & Travel

Greek Unrest Challenges U.S. Tour Companies

The economic turmoil in Greece is a concern for many U.S.-based travel companies that specialize in package tours to some of the Mediterranean’s most revered destinations.

It’s not yet clear how much of an impact the demonstrations and protests in the country will have on the usually busy summer travel season, but some tour companies have good reason to be worried.

Protests Spark Concerns

Each year, Jo Briech, her husband and their young son take one vacation abroad, after tax season. They’re accountants in Dallas.

“Greece is our absolute favorite country,” Briech says. “We have been three times before, 2006, 2009 and 2011.”

At the last minute this year, they booked Italy instead.

“With the instability in Greece, we were very concerned about arriving and having large swaths of Athens shut down by protests, possibly violent,” she says.

Concerns like those make tour operators and travel agents bristle.

“That’s almost not a realistic fear,” says Litsa Monsell, who runs a Colorado-based agency called Slip Aweigh Travel.

She ran a restaurant in Greece for 12 years and she says she fields calls from people like Jo Briech every day.

“It’s in the main land Athens where I’ll tell people, instead of staying right on Constitution Square or by the university, stay by the Acropolis,” Monsell says.

Monsell says most people booking trips only stop briefly in Athens anyway, before heading off to one of the country’s famous islands.

It is becoming harder for them, the Greeks, but as a tourist, you wouldn’t even see any of that, the chances of being thrown into a quote-un-quote dangerous situation, is maybe 5 percent if that,” she says.

The frequent news footage of protesters clashing with police and shutting down major thoroughfares hasn’t yet led to a drop in bookings at Monsell’s agency.

Bookings Down

But it has at others, including Apostolos Greek Tours, run by Paul Samaras in Denver.

This year, it’s a struggle,” he says.

Over lunch in a popular Greek restaurant called Pete’s, he says his company caters to American runners who travel to Greece in the fall to run the famous Athens Marathon.

Samaras says by now, he’s usually sold out. But so far this year only 30 people have booked.

“I personally have reduced prices and I’m sure others are doing the same thing,” Samaras says. “But the challenge is the local suppliers, food and all the other expenses are just as expensive, or higher.”

Samaras says he’s frustrated because he says what’s going on in his native country is no different than what’s taking place in Italy or Spain.

“Unfortunately the news media can only capture a very small glimpse of the demonstrations in Athens,” he says. “Those demonstrations happen in about a five block area.”

Earlier this year, the State Department posted bulletins warning American travelers of potentially violent demonstrations in Greece. But currently the government is only advising tourists to be ready for public transit shut downs or other inconveniences as a result of protests.

Getting There Is Half The Fun

The unrest didn’t stop Pamela Colorado of Hawaii from booking a holiday on the Greek island of Santorini in July.

“Why would I be afraid to go to Greece,” she says.

She has faith that Greece is safe for travelers.

“Greece is one of the foundations of democracy,” Colorado says. “I say go to Greece.”

Greek islands including Santorini saw banner tourism last year, despite the financial crisis. Tourism officials credit that to the unrest in Egypt.

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