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Greek holidays news and views

Greek island holidays conjure up idyllic images of blue domed churches set against a backdrop of pine coated hills, sunny skies and golden beaches. For many thousands, the Greek Islands conjure up images of quaint fishing ports, bustling street markets, fabulous beaches and crystal clear seas. Variety is the key to a Greek island holiday so take your pick of barely inhabited peaceful retreats to 24-hour beach parties.

Greek taverna
Tax crackdown in the islands

Tax crackdown in the Greek islands. Greek holiday islands have been raided by a special financial crimes unit in a crackdown on tax dodgers among Greek island hotel and restaurant chains. The Greek Financial Crimes Squad (SDOE) sent officers from Athens to several popular Greek island resorts to carry out spot inspections. The raids uncovered many firms evading tax. The biggest haul was on the holiday island of Rhodes where tax officers found all 11 of 11 businesses raided were found to be breaking tax laws. On the island of Santorini, they found 115 out of 149 businesses (77%) suspected of evading taxes. A similar percentage was recorded on the island of Mykonos, where 103 of 140 businesses were suspected, and on Paros where 75 out of 116 businesses checked were thought to be breaking tax laws. Hotel and restaurants owners were accused of a variety of tax offences such as not issuing receipts, issuing fake receipts, not keeping proper accounting records and by not passing on VAT tax revenues to the state. On Mykonos, the 103 businesses caught breaking the law committed a combined total of 7,330 offences and on Paros, a total of 75 businesses committed 5,119 offences, according to reports. Many are thought to be repeat offenders. The SDOE team conducted spot checks on more than 700 businesses between April 30 and August 8. The decision to use tax officers from Athens rather than to rely on local personnel is thought to have helped increase the effectiveness of the checks. The Finance Ministry has to raise €5.4 billion each month until the end of the year in order to reach its budget targets. Clamping down on tax evaders is seen as one of the key ways to increase revenues. The Greek government has brought in private sector lawyers, accountants and inspectors in the crackdown on tax dodgers and those who owe money to the state. The Finance Ministry said recently that it was owed €37 billion in unpaid tax from a total of 14,700 individuals and organisations.

Tourists fly in on cheap flight deals
Boom time

Boom time for Greek island holidays. Holidays in the Greek islands are enjoying a major boost with tourist numbers in 2011 well up on last year despite the current economic problems. Tourist arrivals at airports throughout Greece rose by 9.5% in the first half of the year, according to the Association of Greek Tourist Enterprises (SETE). Visitors arrivals at Greek airports totalled 4,214,220 in the period January-June 2011. In June alone arrivals reached 1,782,673 – a 15.8% rise on the same month last year. It is thought that holidaymakers are cashing in on cut-price holiday deals to the Greek islands as package holiday firms attempt to offset bad publicity about Greece in recent months. Greek experts insist that street protests at the economic clampdown are confined to small areas of Athens and that the Greek holiday islands are completely free of trouble. The destinations posting the largest increases in the first half of the year were the Greek islands of Rhodes and Kos, with 33.25% and 31.07% growth respectively. Substantial increases were also posted in Thessaloniki (11.57%), Heraklion, Crete (15.06%) and Hania, Crete (7.82 %). The majority of the tourists come from Germany and UK but significant numbers are also arriving from Italy, Switzerland, Russia and Israel, according to figures. The biggest increase in arrivals to the holiday island of Rhodes were from Israel, up 73% on last year, followed by Russia, up 61%, Poland, up 58% and Finland, up 41%. Visitors cite the hospitality of the locals, the beauty of Rhodes Old Town and the fine beaches for their choice of taking holidays on Rhodes. This compares with a drop in the number of Greeks going on holidays in the Greek islands this year. According to rough estimates the number of Greeks taking holidays in the Greek islands this year has dropped by 40%.

Skopelos taverna
Holidays beat crisis

Greek Island holidays beat the euro crisis. It's not all bad press for Greece despite the riots and strikes on the mainland as authorities grapple with Greece's economic crisis. Greek island holidays are being featured in more newspapers and magazines than ever with the islands of Santorini, Skopelos, Crete, Rhodes and Mykonos leading the way. And there have never been so many articles on Greek fashion and food while Greek dishes are cooked in ever more restaurant kitchens across the world. According to a recent British survey of holidaymakers on the cost of their holiday, visitors found that the Greek islands has cut prices for tourists by at least 10%. Those who put luxury and style top of their lists head for the top hotels in Rhodes, Mykonos, Santorini and Crete while those watching their wallets head to islands like Naxos, Alonissos and Skopelos. British newspapers have recently featured birdwatching holidays in Lesvos, townscapes of Symi and the marble of Paros. A Swiss newspaper survey puts the Greek Islands top of the holiday list while a survey of tourist choices among Italians put Spain top (19%) and Greece second (14%) with Croatia third(12%). Europeans not only see do not the Greek Islands as a holiday destination but also as a target for permanent residence after retirement. For the British, Crete is the most popular destination for buying a house or land eight out of ten foreign owners in the Greek island are British. Other Europeans, especially Germans, Scandinavians and Eastern Europeans are attracted to mainland Greece, notably buying up homes in the Peloponnese.

Myrtos beach on Kefalonia
Holiday boom

Greek islands in holiday boom. Amid reports of a rise in holiday sales to the Greek Islands this year it appears that Zante, Corfu and Rhodes are leading the way in a tourism recovery. After a couple of lean years the recent unrest in Tunisia and Egypt has prompted a jump in visitors switching to the Greek Islands. And new figures for 2011 show that the number of visitors flying in for an early holiday break on the popular Greek island of Zante has increased very sharply. Statistics for April – the traditional start of the Greek Island holiday season – shows a fivefold increase of arrivals at the airport on Zante or Zakynthos as it is also known. A breakdown of the figures shows that most of the extra visitors have arrived on charter flights, with around 2,600 arrivals in 2011 compared to about 460 in April last year. Locals hope the early arrivals will prompt a bumper year for Greek Islands' holidays, some good news at last in the wake of the country's recent financial problems. And in neighbouring Corfu, April figures that tourism grew by 72% compared with April 2010 according to the Deputy Minister of Culture and Tourism, Mr. G. Nikitiadis, on a visit to the island. Tourist arrivals in Rhodes also increased by 132 percent in April, compared to the corresponding month in 2010, according to data announced by the Civil Aviation Service, with tourists arriving in Rhodes on charter flights amounting to 67,692. The popular Greek Island Holidays website has also seen sales up right across the Greek Islands so far this year with holidays booked through the website up by 30% on last year, although Zante still lags in fifth place for package holiday sales behind Thassos, Kefalonia, Skiathos and Kos . Hopefully the busy start to the 2011 holiday season will herald an upturn for Greece's beleaguered economy.

Scuba diving
Scuba diving splash

As recently as 2006 scuba diving in the Greek Islands was severely restricted in a bid to prevent people from plundering the treasures that lie all over the Mediterranean sea floor. Now diving regulations have been eased and the move has prompted a huge rise in diving clubs throughout the Greek islands. Indeed there are not now many popular Greek islands that do not have at least one scuba diving centre. And because Greek Island dive sites have been free of interference for so long they have now become must-visit destinations for keen scuba divers from across the world. With more than 240 inhabited Greek islands and a long history of seafaring there are a significant number of wrecks to explore, not to mention the underwater reefs, caves and walls. What makes diving in the Greek Islands so exciting is that on most dives there is a good chance of finding historic artefacts. Divers get the chance to be the first to see underwater history. But it is still look, don't touch. Disturbing or taking underwater finds is illegal and all finds should be reported. Although there is something to interest everyone on any of the Greek islands there are a few sites that stand out from the crowd when it comes to scuba diving. Mykonos has some of the best dive sites in the Mediterranean, from the Dragonisi caves with their remarkable rock formations to the wreck of the Peloponisos which sank off Prasonisi in the 1930's. Naxos is known for the wrecks of a Beaufighter torpedo bomber from World War II and an Arado 196 German seaplane as well as the Dome, an ethereal blue cavern teeming with marine life. Off nearby Paxos is the sunken minesweeper HMS Regulus. The wreck has a massive anchor and attracts a considerable amount of marine life. Crete has a ring of excellent dive sites and is one of the best laces to spot larger creatures such as bluefin tuna. The clear waters and underground caverns and canyons provide exceptional photo opportunities. Add to the mix the laid back way of life, the incredible beaches, unforgettable scenery and the Mediterranean summer sunshine and it's not hard to see why the Greek islands are turning into a major dive site centre.

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