Greece trying to woo back tourists

BERLIN • Greece, long loved by tourists for its white- washed chapels, sun-kissed islands and turquoise seas, is trying to shake off its new image as Europe's frontline state in the migrant crisis.

At Berlin's ITB, which bills itself as the world's leading travel trade show, Greek tourism professionals are at pains to stress that their crisis-battered country remains a premier holiday getaway.

"We believe that 2016 will be even better than last year because if there were some problems last year on some islands, there is now a return to stability," said Greek Tourism Minister Elena Kountoura.

"Measures have been taken at the European level and the number of refugee arrivals has declined," she said, providing an optimistic take as Greece continues to host tens of thousands of refugees in tent cities and shelters.

For Greece - long battered by recession and a drawn-out financial crisis - tourism is vital sector, making up 20 per cent of gross domestic product and accounting for about one in five jobs.

Greece's beloved islands, among them world-famous Corfu and Santorini, have long depended on cruise ships and package holiday companies that every year deliver sun- starved Germans, Britons and travellers from elsewhere around the world.

But in recent months, the islands, especially those in the eastern Aegean, some just a few kilometres off the Turkish coast, have become the main gateway to Europe for tens of thousands of refugees fleeing war and poverty in Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan.

On some islands, refugee families with young children have languished in appalling sanitary conditions that are a far cry from the images of seaside resorts and beach tavernas advertised in the brochures at the ITB.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 12, 2016, with the headline 'Greece trying to woo back tourists'. Print Edition | Subscribe