South Africa has reopened borders for business travel, but it will be a while before we allow overseas tourists back in.
In the meantime, it’s worth taking stock of how other countries and tourism hotspots are handling the lifting of border restrictions and a revival of the tourism industry.
Greece was one of the countries least affected by the coronavirus pandemic, in turn making it one of the most appealing countries for international travel when overseas holidays are an option again.
The country’s economy relies heavily on tourism, which means that the mandatory lockdowns put a damper on that industry and the revenue it generates.
CNN looked into what happened when the island of Santorini, one of the most visited destinations in Greece, locked down, and how they plan on reopening and rebuilding.
Santorini was hit hard by the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. The destination relies on tourism for 90% of its income. The lockdown came as the island opened its restaurants and hotels all year round.
During this enforced isolation only Santorini residents were allowed on the island. Guests from the mainland had to return home and no new tourists were allowed in. The drastic shutdown worked, however. Not one case of the potentially deadly disease was diagnosed on Santorini.
Although the island is slowly opening again, it’s on high alert.
“No one on Santorini wants to catch Covid,” says Joy Kerluke, who runs Dmitri’s Taverna at Ammoudi Bay. “I have to say that with the lockdown we felt safe on Santorini as we had no cases and nobody was coming here. I think we all enjoyed the scenery and the quietness for a while.”
Even though tourists are allowed back, Santorini is expecting only 15% of the tourists that usually visit.
Uncrowded and Quiet
Santorini is usually packed to the brim with tourists. Without the usual crowding, they were able to finish some projects including a new terminal at the airport and a new road that connects Oia with the airport and part of Athinios port.
Now that visitors are returning, navigating the island will be much easier.
For a destination that was second only to Venice with its cruise-ship issues, the fact that very few of these enormous vessels — if any — will return in 2020 is considered to be good news. With each ship disgorging up to 3,000 people onto minibuses, these floating hotels clogged up Santorini’s roads.
Restaurants are reworking seating to allow for physical distancing, and sorting out PPE before visitors return.
A Strange Tourism Season
Capetonians who have worked as bartenders or waitrons know that if you want to make money, you work in peak tourist season. It’s similar on Santorini, especially because it relies so heavily on tourism for income.
Another massive contributor to the economy is Santorini’s vineyards.
By now the 2019 vintage should be in restaurants and supermarkets across the island, but Petros Vamvakousis, manager of Venetsanos Winery, says the lockdown has disrupted distribution.
“Our 2019 vintage remains inside stainless steel tanks and barrels,” he says. “It should have been bottled between February and April but the five people who would do this had to remain at home. Now we are trying to catch up.”
“Normally we produce 50,000 bottles a year but we rely on exports, and these are close to zero at the moment. Our distributor in America informed us that while restaurants remain closed in the USA, there is no market for Santorini wine in America.”
“We are living in a strange time”, he says.
Stopping The Machine
Vamvakousis says he is optimistic about the months to come.
“Santorini is one of the most beautiful places on Earth, but I am sure that lockdown was helpful,” he says. “It stopped the machine that just created money and did not care about the environment. Now it is the right time to think what was wrong with Santorini. We have the right to protect, but we don’t have the right to destroy.”
Local Greeks have also been able to enjoy the island without the hordes of tourists, while at the same time revising and refining their strategies for when visitors return.
The Advantages of the Privacy Model
The privacy model is what has made Santorini a sought-after honeymoon destination.
“Rather than huge hotels with large public spaces, most of Santorini’s suites have private entrances and sunlit balconies with a dedicated pool or Jacuzzi that is cleansed and chlorinated daily,” says George Filippidis at Andronis. “Breakfast is served in your room, not in a dining hall. This is ideal for guests who want to feel safe. Unlike in big resorts we’re not having to put up perspex screens between sun-loungers.”
In other words, there was already a system in place that encouraged physical distancing.
The slow return of tourists may not be a bad thing. It gives the island even more time to test out its systems and safety measures before it returns to its former tourist-packed conditions.
As we watch other parts of the world welcome returning visitors, we should pay close attention to what works and what doesn’t.
Our time will come, and we need to make sure that we get it right off the bat.
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