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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.

mani waterfront
Holiday visitors top 20 million

Greek Island holiday visitors have topped the 20 million mark this year, according to the latest figures. Tourist arrivals to Greece in the nine months from January to September jumped more than 17% compared to the same period last year. It looks set to make 2015 another record year for Greek holiday tourism and puts the country on track to break through the 25 million mark by the end of the season. According to data from the Bank of Greece, more than 20.6 million tourists have visited Greek holiday resorts and beaches this year. And visiting tourists have had more holiday spending money than last year with income from tourism and travel up 4.7% to reach €12.57 million. UK holidaymakers, in particular, had lots of cash to spend with British tourists spending €1.75 million more than last year, a rise of more than 25%. European visitors overall were among the big spenders with receipts up 10.5% while spending by visitors from outside Europe dropped more than 5%. Increased tourism has come despite Greece's economic turmoil in recent years and the current refugee crisis appearing to have had little effect on those considering a Greek Island holiday. Other factors that may have helped to bolster confidence in the Greek holiday market this year have been the continuing troubles in Egypt and Turkey, two to Greece's biggest competitors for sunshine holidays. Other factors have been the good exchange rate with the euro and the lower prices for Greek holidays this year. Tourist arrivals from Germany have shown a sharp turnaround after a year in the doldrums with tourist cash spending by German holidaymakers also up 7.4%. Visitors from the USA have enjoyed some very cheap holiday deals his year thanks to the weakness of the euro against the dollar. The continued popularity of Greek Island holidays has been welcomed by the local tourist industry which has major plans to boost next year's numbers. Plans in the pipeline include extending the holiday season beyond the traditional May to September season, promoting more health and sports tourism and improving inter-island communications with the possible launch of inter-island seaplane services in 2016.

Cave Melissani
Four must see Ionian locations

The Ionian Islands in Greece are one of the most popular destinations for holidaymakers and travellers in all of Europe. The vast array of towns and cultures, mixing the quaint with the boisterous, combined with a selection of stunning beaches and a wide range of activities to enjoy means that there is always somewhere that suits your tastes. Chocked full of incredible places to see and experience, we recommend you try to visit at least one of these incredible locations while visiting the Greek Ionian Islands. Navagio Bay, Zante The poster child for the Greek Islands, Navagio Bay, also known as Shipwreck Beach, is found in a rocky cove on the island's west coast. Impossible to reach by land, unless you skydive from atop its vibrant white cliffs, visitors can travel either via their own private boat or by locally operated water taxis to the bay. At Navagio Bay, you can sit back and take in the splendour of this beautiful piece of planet Earth. A perfect spot for swimming, snorkelling, relaxing, sunbathing and even partying if you visit at the right time, the striking nature of this place is guaranteed to leave a mark on your memory for years to come. Melissani Cave, Kefalonia There is nowhere in the world quite like Kefalonia's Melissani Cave. Found deep beneath the island's surface, it is accessible either via an ocean cave or a man-made tunnel; but we definitely recommend going in via the cave. Travelling by rowboat through jagged and enclosing rock walls, you will eventually come to a small underground lake. Light floods in from a large sinkhole opening from above, illuminating the amazing colours of the water. This combination of light and water has also allowed lush plant life to grow up the walls of the cave, creating the sense of some sort of ancient underground utopia. An unparalleled visual treat, it is impossible not to get swept up in the majesty of this natural Greek wonder. Marathonissi, Laganas Bay An island like no other, Marathonissi can be found in Lagana's bay off Zante's southern coast. A peaceful paradise only a short distance from the bustling town centre across the bay, Marathonissi boasts two beautiful beaches, clear waters and a real taste of Mediterranean paradise. The only issue, however, is that it is only accessible by private boat. The area is a protected turtle nesting ground, meaning that large ferries are not permitted, nor is any type of vessel allowed to drop anchor close by. Your best option is to hire out a small vessel that can be docked on the sandy shores of the island, something small and light, but with enough power to cross the deceptively large Lagana's bay. Paleokastritsa, Corfu A renowned Greek beauty spot, Paleokastritsa is a small village found on the western edge of Corfu. In essence it is a traditional piece of Greece built around the wild coastline of the island, apartments and houses weave between the rustic woodlands and sit on the side of soft flowing hills. Visitors to the village can experience the best of everything Greece has to offer, mixing the classic aspects of Greek culture with stunning landscapes. The fact that Paleokastritsa is also home to some beautiful Mediterranean coves and beaches doesn't hurt either. Words by Cliff Blaylock of Deep Blue Yachting.

skiathos airport
Late Greek holiday arrivals up

Greek airports welcomed almost 15 million visitors in the first ten months of 2015, a rise of nearly 6% on last year. Latest figures from the Greek Tourism Confederation (SETE) showed 14.9 million foreign visitors passed through passport control at airports across the country in the ten months to October. The increase of 5.7% ion airport arrivals this year shows that Greece and the Greek Islands are on track for a third year of breaking records on holiday visitors. The rise has come despite the economic problems of a country keep in recession and the rising tide of refugees that have arrived on Greek shores from Syria and other war torn regions in the Middle East. The international airport at Athens saw the highest growth in visitor arrivals at any airport, up an astonishing 26% between January and October. But Athens was not the only one. Airports across the Cyclades island group, which contains such popular holiday islands as Mykonos and Santorini, posted a 15% rise over the same ten months. And attempts to extend the Greek holiday season beyond the traditional May to September months shows signs of bearing fruit as the Cyclades in October alone notched up a remarkable 30.4% increase in visitors compared to the same month last year. Airport arrivals on the island of Crete stayed pretty much the same as last year with a 0.8% drop overall while the Dodecanese island group suffered a 2% drop in arrivals. Islands in the Dodecanese include, of course, such islands as Kos, Samos and Lesvos where the flood of refugees sailing across from Turkey has been greatest, although it's not known if the refugee crisis has had a direct impact on holiday visitor numbers. The figures are for airport arrivals only and don't take into account those holiday visitors arriving by ferry or overland. Even combined figures may not give an accurate picture of the tourism picture for Greece as many visitors fly to Athens or to the more familiar Greek islands and then take a ferry to their final destination. In any event, the figures are encouraging given the recent problems with the economy, the political upheavals and the refugee crisis. It also appears that tourists who do arrive in Greece continue to spend more cash while on holiday. Data from the Bank of Greece has shown an average 4.5% rise in revenues from the tourism sector over the past five years with tourism adding another 6% to the country's overall wealth through employment and growth in Greek island economies. SETE is confident that the latest figure keeps Greece on track to end with a new record of 26 million international holiday visitors in 2015.

Greek hotel rooms booking scam
VAT hike for Greek Islands

Cheap rates for holiday visitors to the Greek islands will be a thing of the past after VAT rates are hiked up to the levels paid in the rest of Greece. From October 1st, the Greek Islands are to lose tax privileges that they have enjoyed for years, meaning higher prices for tourist visitors. Rhodes, Santorini, Mykonos, Naxos, Paros and Skiathos will be the first Greek islands that will lose a special low VAT status, according to the Greek Finance Ministry. VAT rates on those islands will rise from the current low levels of 5%, 9% and 16% to the same rates at the Greek mainland of 6%, 13% and 23%. Other islands will follow in June next year with the remaining islands, those more remote and less visited by tourists will see taxes rise on January 1st, 2017. The Greek Islands have benefitted from low tax regimes for years, a decision taken by the Greek government to boost tourism revenues and to help offset the higher costs of transporting goods to and from the mainland. The lower tax rates meant lower prices for food, accommodation and other tourism related services on scores of Greek holiday islands. But the dire state of the Greek economy and the demands imposed by creditors for repeated bailouts of the country's economy has forced the government to raise cash wherever it can. Harmonising the country's VAT rates has been part of a new multi-billion euro new bailout accepted by the Greek government last July along with measures to be taken against tax evasion and to improve the tax collection system. Greek hotel owners are likely to be hit the hardest as deals with tourism agencies for 2016 have already been signed and sealed. Greek hoteliers may have to absorb the extra tax next year and hope to recover their losses the year after. At least the tax hike comes as Greece is enjoyed another record year for visitor numbers. The total number of international arrivals s forecast to pass 26 million this year bringing €15.5 billion by the end of the holiday season. Now accounting for nearly 20% of Greece's gross domestic product, key government figures are determined to develop and improve the sector. Greek Alternate Tourism Minister Elena Kountoura said at a recent World Tourism Conference: "It's our duty to upgrade our tourism product in regards to its quality, infrastructure, education and offered services." Andreas Andreadis, head of the Greek Tourism Confederation (SETE) added : "Tourism has managed over the years of the crisis to be the main driver of GDP growth and has contributed to the creation of new jobs." And president of the Hellenic Federation of Hoteliers Yiannis Retsos said: "For Greece, and especially in this environment of deep crisis, tourism has proven in the most clear way that it is a valuable pillar of economic growth and social cohesion." Greece and the Greek Islands attracted almost 12 million tourists over the first seven months of 2015, according to figures from the Bank of Greece. The number of inbound travellers to Greece from January to July was by 14.2% higher than the same period last year at 11.97 million. And visitors from the UK look set to topple Germans from the top spot as revenues from British holiday visitors rose 37.2% against holiday spending by visitors from Germany with rose only 9.8%. British visitors to Greece outnumbered Germans for the first time in 10 years at over 1.3 million, up nearly 30% this year while German holidaymakers trailed behind at 1.29 million. The number of Russian visitors to Greece plunged a massive 65% to just to 235,000, although this was largely offset by the big increase in US visitors, up 34.8% to 395,000.

lefkas porto karsiki beach
Greek Islands set for record 2015

It looks like being another record year for Greek Island holidays with tourism leaders forecasting 26 million visitors to Greek beaches and resorts this season. According to latest figures from the Greek Tourism Confederation (SETE), the country's main tourism body, international arrivals jumped 4.6% on last years' record numbers to reach almost 3 million arrivals in August. It takes the number of holiday visitors for the first eight months of 2015 to nearly 11.4 million, a rise of 6.3 % on the same period last year. The country's financial troubles, political upheavals and refugee crisis have so far failed to stop holidaymakers booking Greek Island resorts for their summer break. Now SETE is anticipating some 26 million visitor arrivals this year and expecting much-needed revenue from foreign visitors to top € 14.5 billion this year if the trend continues until the end of the holiday season. Virtually all island destinations greeted more visitors in the January to August 2015 period. Only the islands Rhodes, Kos and Crete recorded decreases of around 2% each. But it wasn't just the holiday islands that a pulling in the visitors. The capital city of Athens recorded a massive 23% rise in visitor numbers for August compared with last year, taking overall growth for the whole year to 26%. A spokesman for SETE said: "Despite the difficult economic situation and the serious problems faced by the industry in the midst of this year's tourism season, the intensive, persistent and systematic effort of all stakeholders, entrepreneurs and workers in Greek tourism is bearing fruit, achieving another record." However, those working in the Greek hotel sector claim to have seen little benefit from the improved visitors numbers as they face increased taxes as Greece attempts to balance the books. And they warn of financial problems next season as they try to absorb a future increase in VAT on accommodation and tourist related goods. President of the Hellenic Federation of Hoteliers (POX), Yiannis Retsos, told a meeting: "The challenge is whether we can afford to absorb the increase and remain competitive." The VAT imposed on hotels in Greece will rise to 13% from the current 6.5% from October and this is likely to make the cost of a Greek holiday higher next year, putting a brake on the growing popularity for Greek Island holidays. Nevertheless, the islands remain one of the world's best tourist destination whatever the price as the annual Condé Nast Traveller Readers' Travel Awards in London recently showed with the Greek Islands winning the 'Best in the World' accolade. Readers of the luxury travel magazine ranked Greece top in the 'Favourite Islands' category ahead of the Balearics, the Maldives, the Hawaiian Islands and Bali.

lovin greece poster
Holidays help keep Greece afloat

Holidays in Greece are helping the country climb out of recession as visitors spend more hard earned cash on holiday treats. Latest estimates from the Bank of Greece suggest that cash receipts from tourism will to most to limit damage to the economy in the second half of 2015. Increased tourist arrivals and the incoming cash flow appear to have saved Greece from the depths of the recession. According to the bank's weekly bulletin, Greece recorded an unexpected growth in holiday visitors in the second quarter and the upward trend in tourism in the summer months. And figures from the Greek Alpha Bank says the number of incoming tourists in June 2015 grew by 12.4% compared to 13.7% in June 2014. The number of tourist visitors to Greece and the Greek islands topped 3 million in June 2015, compared with 2.7million in the same month last year. And the June holiday figures took the total in the first six months of 2015 up 20.8 % against 15.6% in the first half of 2014, itself a record year for holiday arrivals. Travel receipts grew at a lower rate than 2014, up 8.2% to 7.56 million in the first half of 2015 again 9.6% last year but the injection of foreign cash has been vital in helping the government to balance the books this year despite the economic and social turmoil. The Greek government has launched a series on initiatives this year to try a boost tourism against the backdrop of economic troubles and a seriously bad press. One of the most successful has been a social media campaign called #lovingreece, launched by the Greek National Tourism Organization in July. The #lovingreece campaign called on friends of Greece to express their love for the country by posting messages and photos on Visit Greece social media channels. In the first 24 hours of its launch accounts on Facebook, G+, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest were deluged with posts of encouragement for Greece and Greek holidays. According to Trendinalia, the #lovingreece campaign hit 24th spot on the most popular Facebook trends in just 24 hours. Greece is also growing into a top destination for wedding celebrations with more holiday island resorts and boutique hotels offering wedding packages. The UK's Daily Telegraph newspaper recently featured Greece as a top wedding locations saying: "wedding fantasies do not come more idyllic than those you can plan in Greece". Santorini tops the charts for weddings at the moment with companies offering donkey rides to the church door, while the mainland resort of Monemvasia can trumpet weddings with a medieval fortress backdrop and the picturesque resort of Parga suggest a Venetian castle to host the ceremony.

welcome to greece wall poster
Wall poster welcome to Greece

Holiday arrivals on the Greek Islands will be greeted with giant 'Welcome to Greece' posters in a campaign to boost the country's image overseas. The Greek National Tourism Organisation (GNTO) has erected wall-size posters at airports and seaports across the country to welcome incoming travellers. It's a bit like preaching to the converted given that the only people to see the poster will be tourists already arriving on holiday and some may think the money could be better spent elsewhere but, hey-ho, this is Greece after all. Alternate Tourism Minister, Elena Kountoura, announced the launch of the campaign called "Welcome to Greece" at an event earlier this month with wall-sized posters already up at Athens International Airport and the ferry port at Piraeus. The posters depict Greece and its diverse tourism attractions with such titles as Welcome to the Heart; Welcome to Greatness; Welcome to Harmony; Welcome to a Mythical Destination; Welcome to a Land of Contrast and Welcome to Uniqueness. They say posters and other promotional material are available to all of the municipalities across the Greek Islands on the GNTO webpage. Greek island lovers are also pitching in to lure more tourists back. Hollywood superstar Tom Hanks and Greek-Canadian actress Nia Vardalos are using social media to persuade people to VisitGreece. Tom Hanks own a house on the island of Antiparos where he lives with his actress wife Rita Wilson. The couple recently joined Nia Vardalos not the Cycladic island of Amorgos and posted a picture of themselves enjoying the Greek sunshine and appealing to people to visit. Both Hollywood performers have long been active in promoting the Greek Islands through social media and in interviews for film and TV. Vardalos, who helped produce the 2002 blockbuster My Big Fat Greek Wedding, is pushing for Greece via her own Instagram account #VisitGreece and inviting young and old to visit the Aegean islands. Tourism officials in Greece fear the country's financial mess could hit visitor numbers this year with some experts predicting a modest 3% growth in international visitors in 2015, a huge reduction from the record 23% boost in 2014 visitor numbers. Greece and the Greek islands welcomed more than 22 million tourists last year and, although there was a dip in numbers when the financial crisis hit its peak in July, industry watchers are confident things are picking up. But advice from UK holiday operators is still to take plenty of cash on holiday even though the government has made efforts to limit damage to tourism by exempting holiday visitors to Greece from capital controls. With its chain of holiday islands and the appeal of its history and historical ruins, Greece is still one of the top holiday destinations in the world. Germans have traditionally been the biggest tourist group in terms of sheer numbers followed by the UK, Russia and France and Greece and the Greek islands have enjoyed record growth in tourism for the past two years which now accounts for nearly 20% of the country's wealth. The hope among Greeks is that, as confidence in the Greek economy begins to slowly rebuild, holiday visitors will arrive in even greater numbers this year and next.

Alykes holiday beach on Zante
Bailout boost for Greek holidays

Greek holidays are booming in the wake of the latest bailout agreement with a surge in late bookings for the school summer holiday break. the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) report a large rise in late bookings to Greece as schools in the UK broke up for the holidays with thousands heading off to Greek island beaches. Spain remains the top holiday destination for UK holidaymakers, but Greece and the Greek islands are close behind despite the recent poor publicity over its economic troubles. "Many ABTA Members are reporting an increase in late bookings to Greece following the recent progress in securing a bailout, with customers taking advantage of some exceptional deals", said ABTA chief executive Mark Tanzer. And holiday visitors to Greece will find their pounds stretching further despite the recent decision to raise VAT rates on goods and services across the country. The British Pound continues to give a good exchange rate against the euro, hitting an eight-year high earlier this month, and holiday visitors to Greece are unlikely to feel the effects of any hike in VAT before October. The turnaround follows a brief downturn in holiday booking to Greece as bailout talks dragged on and will come as a welcome relief to the Greek tourism industry which now accounts for nearly 20% of the country's trade. And it comes as final figured have been released on holiday visitors in 2014 when Greece welcomes a record 24.5 million visitors. Of the total of 24,482,630 visiting Greece in 2014, 13,929,193 arrived by plane, 9,103,546 by car and 1,449,891 by sea, according to the research unit of the Greek Tourism Confederation's (SETE). Arrivals by air in 2014 rose by 17% on 2013, itself a record year. Regional airports that include the Greek Islands saw 11,360,618 pass through in 2014, an 11% rise on 2013, according to figures from the Civil Aviation Authority. Tourists who chose to visit Greece by road came to 9,103,546 in 2014 against 6,237,067 in 2013 while arrivals via sea rose just 1% over the year. Fears are now growing that the VAT rise will eventually take its toll on the tourism sector. The Greek government hopes to raise €160-170 million from the hotel sector, around € 200 million from axing special VAT discounts for the islands and &euro and 270 million from the food and drink industry sector as well as €100 million from the transport sector, which includes a VAT rise on ferry tickets to the islands. With regard to holiday package deals already agreed by the hotel sector, the extra VAT will be calculated on a sliding scale from 5% to 30% on the total price of the package deal over the summer season. Tourism industry leaders warn that taxing the country's main income stream could backfire as Greek holidays become less competitive against rival markets, but the government feels it ha little choice given the stringent terms of the latest Greek bailout.

Greek beach taverna
Greek holidays escape VAT rise

Holidaymakers travelling to the Greek Islands are unlikely to be affected by the recent hike in VAT rates, according to travel experts. The Greek parliament recently voted through measures to increase VAT rates on goods and services and to axe the special tax discounts enjoyed by many Greek Island. But the Association of British Travel Agents ABTA says UK visitors planning to head out off to Greece this summer are unlikely to be affected by any price rises. According to an ABTA spokesman: "The intention is that many of these increases will come into effect from 1 October 2015 so they would not affect the majority of holidays for this summer". But ABTA is still advising visitors to take plenty of cash on their holidays in Greece as they have received mixed reports on the availability of cash in ATMs. Although there are no limits on the amounts of cash tourists can withdraw from cash machines there is no guarantee that they will always be working. Cash withdrawal limits for Greeks have resulted in long queues at some machines and reports of them running out of cash, particularly at weekends. But if holidaymakers fail to spend all their euros they need not worry about taking euros out of Greece. There are no restrictions on taking unspent euros out of Greece at the end of your stay, according to ABTA. Credit and debit cards are still being accepted in shops and restaurants in Greece and reports of pharmacies running out of medical supplies have been exaggerated according to the Greek tourism agency SETE. While most pharmacies in Greece appear to be operating normally, the Foreign Office website is still advising travellers to take sufficient medical supplies with them as a precautionary measure. ABTA insists that reports from holidaymakers on the ground "suggest that it remains business as usual in the Greek resorts with bars, shops and restaurants adequately supplied and open as usual". Indeed, all the publicity on the Greek euro crisis appears to have boosted holiday bookings overall this year. The Global Travel Group, with 400 agents across the UK, reports bookings to Greece up 40% on last year, with no signs of a slowdown. According to the Group, the most popular Greek Island destinations are Rhodes, Crete and Corfu and enquiries have also grown. "It's encouraging to hear that the on-going economic turmoil in Greece is not deterring British holidaymakers from booking trips to the country," a Global Travel Group spokesman said. Holidaymakers planning to use Greek ferries to get about however will find tickets more expensive. The VAT rate on Greek ferry tickets rose 10% to 23% overnight. Ferry companies are forecasting a drop in passenger numbers of up 30% as a direct result of the ticket price hike. More than 3.4 million tourists used Greek ferries during their holidays last year.

lalaria beach skiathos
Bailout could hit Greek holidays

Mindful of the impact the Greek crisis might have on holiday bookings this year, the government has stepped in with a special helpline to help visitors solve any problems they may have. Greek tourism minister, Elena Kountoura, invites anyone planning a holiday in the Greek Islands this year to contact a special team set up to offer travel advice. In a televised message aimed at tourists she said: "I have been working closely with all tourism authorities and associations to ensure Greece continues to offer the highest quality of tourism services to its visitors." "We have daily updates here at the Ministry for Tourism, and we are all working 24/7 to provide solutions to any problems that may arise, with our first priority being to ensure that all visitors have a lovely holiday experience in Greece." Tourism officials fear the continued publicity over the country's debt problems coupled with bank closures and repeated fears of a sudden Greek exit from the euro will make foreigners think again about booking a Greek holiday this year. Although holiday booking so far are still holding up and despite repeated assurances that holiday visitors will not be affected by the continuing crisis there have been reports of a drop in bookings for Greek Island holidays. Now the government hopes it can halt the slide with a special team to reassure visitors and address any problems they might have while taking holidays in Greece. The ministry says that despite curbs on currency transactions for Greeks, visitors can withdraw money from any cash machine (ATM) or carry out any other type of transaction using their credit or debit cards with no withdrawal limitation apart from the person's own personal limit. And they have dismissed media reports of problems with supplies of food, medicine or fuel to the Greek islands as 'unfounded'. "They are not reflecting the actual situation in Greece," a spokesman said. Latest reports show that holiday arrival continue to rise -- almost 7% this year on the back of two consecutive years of a record number of arrivals while the Greek National Tourism Organization (GNTO) confirm that tourists are not cancelling their planned trips. Although they admit that last minute holiday bookings are down they are confident that this will be short lived and that 2015 will be another positive year for tourism. The GNTO is quick to point out that ABTA (Association of British Travel Agents) will hold its next travel convention in the Peloponnese later this year and that holiday operator TUI recently presented its new program in Crete to more than 70 German travel bloggers and journalists. The GNTO also noted that although concern about holiday travel is understandable in the current economic climate "public statements, however, based on non-confirmed information, lead to an inaccurate picture that is not based on actual data and injures tourism and the image of our country". Tourism now accounts for 20% of the Greek economy and is a vital foreign revenue raiser for the Greek government. But even though holiday bookings are holding up, some hotel owners warn that some tax hikes proposed as part of the bailout could severely affect the industry. "Tourism is more important in terms of GDP than industry and agriculture put together," said Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises (SETE) manager Alexander Lamnidis. Among the tax increases proposed by creditors in the latest bailout deal is a 23% VAT increase and a possibility that many Greek islands cold lose their existing VAT discount. If they do it may mean higher prices on the islands and a subsequent hit for the holiday market.

Beautiful Lefkas beaches
Greek holidays stay popular

Bookings for Greek Island holidays remain strong despite the current Eurozone crisis and the rejection of the latest bailout deal. International travel company TUI Group has reported that holiday bookings to Greece and the Greek Islands are still higher than last year, showing that "Greece continues to be a very popular holiday destination". The travel firm expects a record number of holidaymakers to fly out to beach holidays on the Greek Islands in the high summer season of July, August and September. Tourist traffic on the Ionian island of Zakynthos rose 5% in June compared to last year and is 4% up for the year according to figures from the Hellenic Chamber of Hotels with the number of visitors from the UK up by 10%. The holiday market continues to flourish despite extensive media coverage of the country's rejection of the austerity measures proposed by the Eurozone in return for a further bailout of the struggling Greek economy. Greek banks have been closed for more than a week and will probably stay closed until Monday, July 13, according to latest government reports. Greek still labour under capital controls as the government tries to keep banks afloat until European leaders meet later this week to consider the latest Greek proposals for extending any bailout loans. Without a deal, the Greek banks are expected to run out of cash this week unless the European Central Bank increases the limit of emergency liquidity assistance. Bank officials say that if Greece does not come to an agreement with its creditors and there is no emergency assistance then even cash machines will cease to operate from next week. Currently, Greeks cannot withdraw more than €60 daily although holidaymakers are free to use cash machines normally. It is thought the Greek government may set a €1,000 euro limit on the amount Greek travellers can take abroad. Meanwhile, British holidaymakers are advised to take plenty of cash with them to pay for their holiday and avoid the queues at cash machines. The UK newspaper The Guardian recommends that holidaymakers opt for a Greek holiday this year and benefit from the low prices. An article insists that despite Greece's economic woes, the country is an ideal holiday destination with sunny weather, magical beaches and delicious food. The article goes on to describe the Greeks as "even more welcoming, more hospitable and more grateful than ever" and praises them for their reaction to economic problems as they welcome visitors with "a broader smile, a wider embrace". There are certainly been no reports from tour operators of any problems on the islands or disruptions to services. The British Ambassador to Greece, John Rittmer, agreed there is "considerable uncertainty" about what happens next in the country but added: "from over 30 years of travelling and now living in Greece, I know that Greece is a hospitable country and that Greeks will do all they can in exceptional times to make tourists welcome". Travel advice from the Foreign Office warns of media reports of a shortage of medical supplies in some area of Greece and on some Greek Islands. It recommends that visitors take enough medicines for their stay. The Foreign Office also says that while Greek banks are closed in Greece, UK holidaymakers can continue to withdraw cash using their cards as normal but they should take sufficient euros in cash "to cover emergencies, unforeseen circumstances and any unexpected delays".

platanias beach crete
Crisis tourists stay cool

Greek holidaymakers appear to be enjoying the beach sunshine despite the gathering storms in the Greek economy. Although holiday companies report a slight fall in Greek Islands holiday bookings for July, visitors are less worried about the economic upheavals than do most Greeks. Hotel and taverna owners on hugely popular islands like Mykonos and Santorini say tourist numbers are as high as ever with rooms packed for the start of the high season. Tourists visitors have had no trouble paying with credit cards and the Greek government allows them to use cash machines, despite local Greeks being severely restricted in cash withdrawals. Most UK visitors appear to have taken the UK government's advice to take plenty of cash to see them through. Capital controls mean Greeks can't withdraw more than €60 per day but visitors have full access to their cash. TV reports show holiday visitors enjoying the sights, sitting in restaurants and unaffected by the gloomy reports in media outlets. The only signs of the economic crisis are the queues at cash machines. A statement from the Association of Hellenic tourism Enterprise (SETE) said: "Tourists currently holidaying and enjoying the Greek tourism experience have not been affected so far." It may be a different matter in a few weeks time if the Greeks back the government 'No' campaign against the latest bail-out deal. A 'No' vote vote could trigger Greek's expulsion from the Euro, leaving Greece broke and banks shut for days if not weeks while the country attempts to launch a new currency. Even a 'Yes' vote leaves Greece with an uncertain future as, given the recent default on loan repayments, there is technically no bail-out deal on the table anyway. A vote either way is unlikely to affect holidays visitors this season anyway. The Euro may take a hit from a Grexit, but it will still be far more valuable than any new drachma notes that may emerge. The main problem in the longer term could be rising prices and some local firms going bust. Fortunately, the reliance on foreign cash means that tourist-based enterprises are far less likely to feel the cold winds of inflation that other staple Greek industries such as farming and shipping. Transport could also be a problem for those that prefer casual island hopping to the traditional package holidays. The vast majority of holidaymakers who have booked with UK operators, notably the all-inclusive hotel deals, should hardly feel any effect at all. Tourism has always played a major part in the Greek economy and currently accounts for 20% of the country's GDP and brings work and opportunityis to many Greek islands.

Santorini
A Grexit and your holiday

Holidaymakers planning a trip to Greece or the Greek Islands this summer will naturally be worried as the prospect of Greece leaving the Eurozone and the impact it may have on their Greek Island holiday. Almost every news bulletin is full of scare stories about an imminent Grexit from the Euro, the collapse of the Greek banking system and the possibility of soaring inflation. Even if Greece stays in the Euro, the country is likely to face more austerity measures as international creditors demand a much tighter reign on government spending if Greece is to receive even more bailout cash. The good news for holidaymakers is that any Greek exit from the euro is unlikely to have major impact on Greek Island holidays in the short term and you shouldn't be worried unduly about travelling to Greece this summer. Even if Greece does abandon the Euro, it is unlikely to do so before the summer season is over. The technical problem of introducing a new currency, even a return to the drachma will be a process that will take weeks rather than months. So it is unlikely that a Grexit will hit the pockets of tourists planning to spend Euros in Greece this summer. Such a move could even end up in favour of UK holidaymakers as the Euro could well lose exchange rate ground against the British Pound making a Greek holiday even cheaper. As package tour operators block-book Greek hotels and apartments at least a year in advance it is unlikely that prices will fall directly as a result of a Greek exit from the Euro but, with other holidaymakers concerned about going to Greece this year, there are likely to be some great discounts for last-minute holidays and the possibility of quieter beach resorts when you arrive. Holiday giant Thomas Cook says a Greek exit would have little direct impact on holidaymakers as existing contracts with hotel and airlines were signed months ago. Clearly, this doesn't mean that your Greek Island holiday will be totally unaffected by the economic troubles that Greece is facing at the moment. There is the prospect of sudden and unannounced bank closures, especially if Greece fails to do a deal with its creditors and sparks a run on bank deposits. The government will do it most to prevent banks collapsing and not only could bank doors stay firmly shut but ATM cash machines will be turned off as well. The latest advice from the British travel association ABTA is to take cash for holiday spending on not rely on cards for spending money. Holiday visitors may also be concerned at rising prices as the Greek government considers ways to raise more cash to meet its debt payments. Rises in VAT are widely forecast, especially in many off the Aegean islands that have enjoyed low VAT rates in a bid to both offset the costs of transporting food and other essential to the islands but also to boost tourism. There will be those who are worried about the potential for social unrest at a turbulent time. Strikes and blockades have been a feature of Greek life for many years but, with a left-wing government in place, strikes have been rare for the past few months. But already Greece's passenger ferry service is expected to be disrupted on June 30 after the Pan-Hellenic Seamen's Federation announced a 24-hour strike in protest at the alleged violating of labour contracts and claims that the Greek seamen have not been paid. But the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which monitors travel abroad, has no particular concerns at the situation in Greece other than a warning of strikes action, sometimes at short notice, which can cause travel disruption. Holidaymakers relying on ferries or internal flights to islands are wise to have a plan B in place but that has always been the case in Greece where transport is not always reliable. The FCO also points out that demonstrations and other social unrest is normally confined to large cities like Athens and Thessaloniki and the Greek Islands normally remain peaceful even when there is social unrest on the mainland. There is also an increased risk of Greek holiday companies becoming insolvent so, if you book independently you should avoid handing over large sums in advance without insurance protection. Those travelling with a tour operator will find the company is responsible for finding alternative accommodation or flights if a supplier goes bust. It makes travel insurance even more essential and it's worth checking the small print to make sure you are covered if your travel company becomes insolvent. It's also a good move to pay in advance with a credit card to increase your chances of a full refund if things go wrong. One thing is sure. The rising debt crisis has failed to stem the British appetite for Greek Island holidays so far this year. Holidays in Greece shot up 10.5% in the first five months of 2015 and, although there has been a slight falling off on some Greek Islands in June, the outlook continues to look good for the rest of the holiday season. For some, no doubt, the economic troubles are enough to put them off a holiday in Greece this year, but others will see it as the chance to bag a beach holiday bargain.

archipelagos boat
Fishing holidays in Greece

Fancy a fishing boat holiday in Greece? The prospect has come closer thanks to a relaxation of laws to allow Greek fishermen to use their vessels for tourist trips. Under new laws, Greek fishermen holding a special license and a sailboat up to 15 metres long can now take up to a dozen passengers on short boat trips. It opens up the growing tourist market for active adventure holidays and gives the owners of small Greek boats the chance to earn some extra cash. Hundreds of fishermen are believed to have applied for the special licenses which could help them tap the growing interest in fishing holidays and sports fishing tourism. Small painted fishing boats bobbing in the harbour is a familiar sight for holiday visitors to most Greek islands. The boats usually sail out early morning or late evening for fishermen to bring in the daily catch and may spend most of the day tied up to the harbour wall. Brightly painted and beautifully kept they may get the tourist cameras snapping, but they do nothing for the fisherman's meagre income while they are not at sea. Now all that may change as fishermen not only offer to take tourists on their own fishing trips to experience the life of a fisherman but they can hire out rods or offer day trips to nearby islets with a spot of fishing thrown in. Tourists could even catch their own lunches and cook them on a barbecue at some remote and idyllic cove off the beaten tourist trail. If might also help curb the trend to destroy small fishing boats as part of an EU compensation scheme designed to give cash aid to fishermen who retire. As part of the deal, retiring Greek fishermen are told to destroy their small boats so they cannot be used again. It has resulted in an estimated 5,000 boats being broken up. The scheme had cultural activists up in arms. The Cultural Association of Traditional Greek Boats deplored the loss of the cultural heritage as traditional painted wooden boats were replaced with unattractive mass-produced glass fibre hulls. Many fishermen, struggling in the hard-pressed economic climate, have abandoned fishing and turned to farming. The cash compensation for destroying their boats has been too much to resist. Now the lure of tourist cash could help fishermen stay in the industry, improve their chances of making a living and help protect the traditional boats that help make Greek island holidays so special. The Greek Rural Development Ministry hopes the decision will offer an incentive to fishermen to work together for the promotion of their traditional profession as well as opening the way to provide boat trips and other leisure activities.

Samos taverna
Take cash on a Greek holiday

Holiday visitors to the Greek Islands have been advised not to rely on credit cards if they plan on flying out for a holiday over the next few months. The British Foreign & Commonwealth Office webpage on travel to Greece warns holidaymakers to make sure they have plenty of cash for their holidays. The warning comes as fears continue of a possible economic collapse as the Greek government struggle to pay off international loans. The Greek Tourist Board insists there are no immediate problems with Greek banks but visitors to Greece and the Greek islands are advised not to rely solely on credit and debits cards and local ATM cash machines. The British government is cautious over the uncertainty surrounding Greek membership of the Eurozone. If the Greece government were to default on repayments it could force an exit from the Euro and a run on Greek banks. In order to prevent cash draining out of the economy, the Greek government would be forced to close all cash machines, leaving those holiday visitors relying on cards for their spending cash high and dry. "The currency of Greece is the euro ... you should take more than one means of payment with you (cash, debit card, credit card). Make sure you have enough money to cover emergencies and any unexpected delays," the Foreign & Commonwealth Office site advises. It is advice that could be suitable for overseas travel to any country but it is noticeable that similar advice is not give about other European countries such as France or Spain. Meanwhile, experts recommended that people travelling to Greece should have enough cash with them to last three to five days, apart from their credit and debit cards. Te Greek economy came close to bankruptcy recently when the European finance ministers ruled out another major rescue programme as in 2010 and 2012. Since then the newly elected SYRIZA party government has been slow in implement further austerity measures that have been demanded from lenders in return for a multi-million euro bailout. Emergency funds to cover summer salary payments to public service workers have been dependent on Greece coming up with sweeping changes to government salaries, taxes and pension payouts. Greece is running out of options as quickly as it is running out of cash. By May 11, the government will have to find €700 million worth of new treasury bills as well as €774 million to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). If a deal with the creditors is not struck, Greece could abandon the euro, Greek banks would face collapse and the new drachma currency would be highly devalued as prices for goods and services rise rapidly. Many say the best move for Greece is to continue with a tough austerity programme but the current left-wing government was elected to do just the opposite. The creditors have urged Greece to agree to a list of budget measures before they pay the latest €7.2 billion instalment of its bailout programme and talks are taking place over the Bank Holiday weekend to unlock the cash. It is hardly surprising that sales of holidays to the Greek Islands has stalled in April despite a surprisingly buoyant start to the year. Greek Island holidays are still very attractive with rock-bottom prices thanks to excellent exchange rates for the British Pound against the Euro. It's possible to book a week's holiday in Greece for under £140, making it one of the cheapest holiday destinations in Europe. But it is hardly surprising that British holidaymakers are holding back until the dust settles on the latest Greek bailout.

Kos airport plane landing
Greek holiday record

Tourist arrivals in Greece and the Greek Islands rose a remarkable 23% last year, according to the year-end figures from official sources. The UK and Germany still hold the top two places for Greek Islands holidays with 2.09 million UK visitors in 2014 and 2.46 from Germany. They helped take the total to a record 22 million arrivals, a figure that does not include cruise visitors, according to data from the annual border survey carried out by the Bank of Greece and figures from the Hellenic Statistical Authority. Despite the political and economic troubles that habe plagued Greece recently, the islands remain among the most popular holiday destinations for Brits with an increase of 13.2% in the numbers choosing a holiday break in the Greek island last year. German visitors were up 8.5%, astonishing given ill feeling over Euro loans, while visitors from Bulgaria more than doubled on 2013 numbers at 1.53 million. The holiday beaches of the Greek Islands are not only attractive to Brits and Germans however. Other European countries are beginning to discover the delights of Greece. Also up sharply were holiday visitors from France (up 27% to 1.5 million), Italy (up 16% at 1.2 million) and the United States which saw a 27% rise to 592,000. There was also an increase in holiday arrivals from other parts of the world, including Turkey, China, South Korea and Brazil, although numbers were relatively small. The good news was offset by a bring drop in visitors from Russia and eastern Europe in the wake of UN and European sanctions over Russia's involvement in Ukrainian affairs, the drop in the value of the rouble and the dop in oil prices which has led not only to Russians bening worse of financially but also the collapse of a number of travel companies. Alongside a fall on 7.6% in Russian visitors, there was also a drop in arrivals from Sweden (down 8.4%), Norway (7.1%), Israel (7.3% and Canada (21.9%). A notable feature of the 2014 season was the significant 51% increase holiday arrivals by road with 7.3 million crossing land borders into Greece last year, one in three visitors. Arrivals by air rose 14.3% to more than 14 million, but dropped 5% compared to arrivals by land and sea. The Greek airports that saw the biggest rise in holiday traffic were Athens, Santorini and Chania in Crete. In fact, the rise in Greek holiday flights has posed problems for air-traffic controllers who have asked to be given more resources as they deal on average with more than double the flights they handles in 2002. According to aGreek union officials, each air-traffic controller dealt with 581 flights in 2002, but this rose to 1,232 last year as flights increased to 678,000 while staff numbers fell to 550. Officials have also called on the government to update its radar system which was installed in 1999 and last upgraded in 2008 especially as travel in Greece is forecast to increase 5% year-on-year between now and 2022. The growth could be even more as Greece posts record visitors in 2015 with passenger traffic through Athens International Airport posting a 24.5% in March to pass the 1.1 million mark for the first time since 2010. The rise in domestic traffic was even higher at 33%. Athens Airport has seen a 25.7% rise in total traffic overall for the first three months of the year compared 2014, reaching almost 3 million passengers. Foreign visitors recording Athens as their final destination increased 29% in the year to March, making the Greek capital an increasingly popular winter destination for tourists.

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