Travel in the Greek islands can seem a marathon, given the number of islands and fascinating sights. Many visitors stay on one island but, with regular ferries and flights, there really is no need. There are seven island groups each with its own character - no two islands are the same but groups tend to share attributes, from the classic style of the Cyclades to the Venetian echoes of the Ionian; the Crusader castles of Rhodes to the green of Thassos.
Holiday visitors to Skiathos have a new ferry link from the Greek mainland as Golden Star Ferries launches a new service to the Sporades islands. Gold Star is operating two high-speed ferries to the Sporades islands daily over the summer months. The ferries both run daily between the mainland ports of Volos and Thessaloniki to the Sporades islands of Skiathos, Skopelos and Alonissos. The routes will give Greek island hoppers in the Sporades a major boost to ferry services between the islands. The ferry company's Super Cat ferry runs a morning service from Volos to Skiathos and back leaving Volos at 9 am. Just after noon, the same ferry returns to Skiathos, then sails on the Skopelos and Alonissos before heading to Thessaloniki where it berths around 7 pm. The company's Super Speed ferry leaves Thessaloniki around 10 am for Skiathos, then sails on to Skopelos and Alonissos, returning to Skopelos and Skiathos before sailing to mainland Volos, arriving there about 5 pm. A ferry service between Volos and Skiathos will operate every Friday, Saturday and Sunday morning using whichever of the ferries in berthed in Volos at the time. Golden Star Ferries originally planned to use these vessels to run ferry services to the Sporades from Piraeus but they abandoned the plans as too much of a financial risk. The ferry company then received the approval instead to operate routes connecting Thessaloniki to the Sporades islands. Both ferries were acquired only last year. The high-speed catamaran Super Cat was previously used in the Baltic. The Super Speed is the passenger-only high-speed trimaran formerly called Krilo Eclipse. Most holiday visitors will be more interested in the creation of extra ferry links between the Sporades islands. The new services should make daily visits from one island to another a much more likely proposition, At the moment Skiathos takes the giant share of holiday visitors thanks to an international airport and its high number of holiday beaches. Visits to Skopelos to Alonissos have been hampered by few ferry services and those that do run, operate early in the morning. Hellenic Seaways operates ferried between Skiathos and Agios Konstantinos three times a week. Ferry company ANES also operated ferry and catamaran services to Agios Konstantinos. Most holiday visitors usually get to Skopelos and Alonissos by charter flight to Skiathos then a ferry hop to the respective island. From Skiathos, there are several ferry and hydrofoil crossings every day to Skopelos, a journey of around 45 minutes, and Alonissos which takes about an hour. Skiathos also gets an extra ferry link this summer as it has been included in a Greek government subsidised high-speed route between Thessaloniki and Crete. The service runs twice a week between Thessaloniki, Skiathos, Syros and Heraklion on Crete but only for about three months in the summer.
Holiday visitors to the Greek islands will be well aware of how frustrating airport check-ins can be with long queues at outdated and inadequate island airports. That looks set to change this year following the sell-off of 14 regional state-run airports to the private German-Greek consortium Fraport last year. The sell-off went ahead with pledges to pump millions of euros into upgrading airports on islands such as Rhodes, Crete, Corfu and Skiathos. As well as five new passenger terminals at Corfu, Kefalonia, Kos and Lesvos, Fraport has promised major upgrades at airports across Greece and the Greek Islands. Terminal upgrades include more check-in counters, security lanes and departure gates. And it's not only terminals that are getting a clean-up, the company is also expanding runways, increasing aircraft parking stands, fire stations and airport aprons. The company says all work should be completed by 2021 with major island improvements for Chania, Corfu, Kavala (for Thassos), Kefalonia, Kos, Lesvos, Mykonos, Rhodes, Samos, Santorini, Skiathos and Zante. As work goes ahead Fraport has announced a surge in new flights to many of these airports. UK and German holiday flight companies inaugurating new flights this summer include Jet2.com, British Airways and Germania. Fraport executive George Vilos said: "We are pleased to welcome on a daily basis new routes at our airports - a clear demonstration of the existing potential both for the airlines and destinations." New routes by British flyer Jet2.com include those between Thessaloniki and London, Kefalonia and London and Zakynthos and Birmingham. Jet2.com plans to introduce new routes to Thessaloniki from Birmingham, Glasgow, Newcastle; to Rhodes from Belfast; to Kos from Edinburgh and Birmingham; and to Kefalonia from Glasgow. British Airways launched new flights from London (Heathrow) to Kefalonia last month and German carrier Germania is expanding service to Greece for 2018 with flights to Corfu, Kos, Rhodes, Samos, Thessaloniki, Zakynthos and Lesvos. Mykonos has already welcomed new flights by Qatar Airways from Doha for the first time. Fraport says more airlines are ready to increase flights to the Greek Islands including carriers such as Aegean, easyJet, Lufthansa, Ryanair, Thomas Cook and the TUI Group. It all bodes well for the Geek Island holidays' summer season with international arrivals at Greek airports overall already up 11% this year and aircraft slots for regional airports (mainly on Greek islands ) up nearly 17% to 2.7 million. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras predicts 2018 will be the best year ever for Greek tourism with forecasts of some 32 million visitors - a 12.8% rise on last year. But warning signs have been flagged up by big falls in the Turkish lira this year which could make holidays to Turkey much more competitive this summer.
The new owners of Greek island ferry operator Hellenic Seaways pledge not to increase ferry ticket prices on popular Greek island routes when they take over the Greek ferry company later the year. The ferry company Hellenic Seaways is to be taken over by Attica Group following the green light from Greece's competition authority. Attica Group, which already operates the Blue Star and Superfast ferry lines, will take a controlling interest in Hellenic Seaways from the Italian Grimaldi Group. The deal raises concern about ferry ticket prices and the ability of newcomers to break into the Greek ferry market on routes operated by Hellenic Seaways. But part of the deal approved by the commission is that ferry ticket prices are put on hold and that competition remains open on ferry routes where Hellenic Seaways is the only company currently providing ferry services. Hellenic Seaways has been sailing since 1999 in its current form and operates 18 ferries connecting more than 36 ports in the Northeast Aegean, the Cyclades, the Saronic Gulf and the Sporades. Currently Hellenic operates ferry routes in the Cyclades from the mainland ports of Piraeus and Rafina to popular Greek holiday islands such as Ios, Mykonos, Naxos, Paros, Santorini and Syros as well as regular services between islands in the Cyclades and Crete. Other Hellenic routes include those from Piraeus to the Saronic islands of Aegina, Agistri, Hydra, Poros and Spetses as well as catamaran services in the Sporades from Alonissos, Skopelos and Skiathos to the mainland ports at Volos and Agios Konstantinos. Also, under the terms of the takeover deal, Attica may be required to add routes to some of the more remote Greek islands that either don't have a ferry service or only irregular visits by ferries. Attica Group CEO Spyros Paschalis said: "The completion of the acquisition of sole control over HSW by Attica Group in accordance with its business plan, creates the conditions for sustainable development of the Greek passenger ferry industry, supports the national economy, strengthens the local communities of island, employs local seamen and ensures the interests of shareholders through a strong and competitive production model." Following approval, Attica Group is expected to proceed with the completion of the required contractual actions to acquire a 98.83% of HSW's share capital. Hellenic Seaways has not only been providing ferry services in Greece for many years, it has also expanded its fleet over the past few years, launching nine new ships, two of which were built entirely in Greece. in 2007 the Nissos Chios began ferry services from Piraeus to the islands of Chios and Samos and, in the same year, the luxury liner Ariadne, at that time the largest passenger vehicle ferry in Greece, started sailing from Piraeus to the Northeast Aegean islands of Ikaria and Samos. And in 2016, Hellenic Seaways extended its ferry fleet further with the launch of the completely rebuilt Highspeed 7 and Hellenic Highspeed ferries as well as sailings of the 2,200-passenger and car ferry vessel Nissos Samos.
Still drowning in red tape after more than four years, plans to launch seaplane services between the Greek islands remain a pipe dream. It all looked so good on paper; seaplane flights to link the Greek islands, provide fast services and boost tourism. But the scheme first tabled as along ago as 2013 has been bogged down by red tape, government inertia and political wrangling. Laws were passed by the Greek parliament in 2014 to help speed up licences of seaplane services. But the final bill to pave the way for takeoff has been held up in parliament, mainly through disagreement of what services should be in private hands. The Greek state has controlled the ports and harbours of Greece for many years and thoughts of private companies taking a large slice of the inter-island transport market have not gone down well. The rows over the balance of public-private partnership have repeatedly threatened to kill off the project and left seaplane companies waiting in the wings. Many islands have applied for licences and even earmarked areas for landing and take-off zones despite long and onerous licensing procedures that cover everything from health an safety to environmental impact. Recently Greece's southern Aegean region, which includes Rhodes, Kos, Mykonos and Santorini as well as smaller islands such as Tinos, Milos and Karpathos have tried to speed up licensing for six of the 25 seaplane bases earmarked for the islands. Officials want seaplane bases set up on Naxos, Syros, Leros, Kalymnos, Amorgos and Lipsi by 2018. They will not be holding their collective breath. Greece-based Hellenic Seaplanes had hoped to launch Greek island seaplane services back in 2016 but plans have been repeatedly put on hold ever since. Since 2013 the company has spent thousands of euros to promote seaplane services including shelling out cash for court hearings, environmental reports, fees and applications for licenses, even university courses to train potential waterway managers. A Canadian firm tried to launch a seaplane business in the run-up to the Olympic Games in Athens way back in 2004 but was forced to abandon the project blaming Greece's bureaucracy and opaque laws. It's scarcely believable that such an obvious solution to inter-island transport should have taken so long or be so difficult to achieve. Tourism is Greece's only growth industry and there would be no shortage of customers willing to island hop by seaplane to many of the more remote islands, never mind the more popular destinations. Ferries are fine but they are not quick and while the islands with international airports enjoy record levels of tourism, many others miss out on revenue-boosting tourism. Optimistic entrepreneurs were forecasting a network of seaplane bases all over Greece by the end of 2015. Aircraft were ordered, pilots trained and finance plans put in place to cash in. The aim was to link up with leading airline who could then offer single ticket journeys from European cities to remote Greek islands. More than another mode of transport, seaplanes could have given smaller islands a major economic boost. But the ambitious project has suffered many frustrating setbacks despite government officials announcing seaplane services as a scheme of 'national importance'. The seaplane network was expected to breathe new life into remote islands and open them up to tourism. It has so far come to nothing as private backers haemorrhage cash and the Greek government procrastinates.
Tourists travelling to Greece and to many Greek islands next year can expect fewer delays thanks to a significant upgrade to island airports on islands such as Crete, Rhodes and Skiathos. The Greek government says development work will start on revamping the country's 14 regional airports from November this year. It comes in the wake of the go-ahead earlier this year for plans by the German-Greek consortium Fraport to give the airports a major facelift. The consortium has earmarked more than €400 million for upgrades to airport facilities over the next five years. Work is expected to start first on Mykonos, probably Greece's most popular island tourist destination and the gateway to rest of the Cyclades, including the islands of Naxos and Paros. Mykonos airport has seen the biggest growth in passenger traffic this year, up more than 19% as well as an increase in the number of aircraft ferrying tourists on and off the island. The airport upgrade for Mykonos includes an expansion of the existing passenger terminal, the building of a new terminal and an increase in the number of check-in desks from 12 to 16. The improvement in airport facilities across Greece comes as authorities register a 9.4% rise in overall traffic between January and September this year. Greek airports handled 48.2 million passengers over the period, with Greece's Civil Aviation Authorityreporting a 4.5% rise in international flights. In September this year, passenger traffic topped 7.8 million, up 9.8% on the same month last year, with domestic flights up 6.1% and international flights up 10.9% on September last year. The airports of Athens, Crete (Heraklion), Rhodes, Thessaloniki and Corfu recorded the biggest growth in passenger traffic in September while the airport on Paros which has recently reopened grabbed the highest percentage growth at a phenomenal 140.7%. Last year, Greece agreed a €1.2 billion deal with Fraport to take over the management of many Greek island airports when the government embarked on a privatisation program to help pay off some of the country's massive bailout loans. Fraport was granted a 40-year lease to run the country's regional airports which have been state-owned ever since they were built. Airports included in the contracts include those on Crete, Corfu, Kefalonia, Kos, Mykonos, Mytilini, Rhodes, Samos, Santorini, Skiathos and Zakynthos. The deal also covers three mainland airports at Thessaloniki, Aktion and Kavala. The Greek government landed a €1.234 billion upfront payment for the airports in April along with a pledge by Fraport to invest a further €400 million on improving and expanding airport infrastructure by 2021. Fraport CEO Dr Stefan Schultz said: "We believe in Greece and its potential as one of the greatest travel destinations in the world. The goal of Fraport Greece is to enhance the travel experience for visitors from around the world by upgrading and expanding facilities and by improving operational processes, shopping and services." Tourists are sure to be pleased with the improvement plans which many will agree are long overdue. Long queues and check-in delays are common at many Greek islands airports. Fraport had come under fire earlier this year for being slow off the mark with the airports' revamp, but company officials explained that they decided to hold back on construction until the main holiday season was out o the way so as not to disrupt holiday traffic over the summer. Fraport management points out they have already started background work designed to avoid disruption to the smooth operation of the airports over the summer and point to more than 5,000 urgent upgrade works already carried out this year. The company added that the Greek government is aware of Fraport's time schedule and that the consortium is obliged by the deal to complete the full works over the next four years.
Holiday visitors to the Greek islands can expect even more sunshine than usual as southern Europe remains gripped by a heatwave. Temperatures are projected to stay in the high 30s Celsius well into August, and it will probably feel even warmer thanks to high humidity and a drop in the northern breeze that has so far kept many Greek islands a little less hot. Some regions on the Greek mainland are offering air conditioned public building free of charge to the elderly as they try to cope with soaring temperatures that have topped 40°C in some places. The Greek Meteorological Service has issued a warning of even higher temperatures forecast to hit 41°C in western Greece. The heatwave has triggered weather warnings in 26 European cities with thermometers reaching 47°C in Spain, France, Italy, Croatia and other countries Europe. Greece has so far escaped the worst conditions but is likely to become the next victim as the northern winds subside. The Greek Islands are typically cooler than the mainland (but not by much), but tourists have been warned to stay in the shade during the hottest part of the day. The heatwave has already sparked forest fires on some islands with residents evacuated from homes on Kythera, off the southern tip of the Peloponnese as winds fanned the flames. Late July and August traditionally sees a spike in forest fires in Greece and the Greek Islands where high temperatures and lack of rain contribute to tinder box conditions. The highest temperatures on the islands so far have been reported on Rhodes which topped 38°C and the lowest are on the islands of the Sporades, including Skiathos and Skopelos where they could only manage 29°C, Many Greek Islands are expected to record temperatures up to 34° in August but southern Crete and the eastern Aegean islands are expecting much higher temperatures of between 37°C and 38°C. The official definition of a heatwave in Greece is a minimum of three consecutive days when the air temperature hits 36.5°C or above. This year's scorching weather hardly compares to the heatwave of 2007 which saw the thermometer in Athens hit 46°C and forest fires across the country which led to more than 70 deaths.
Ambitious plans to launch seaplane services in the Greek Islands look ready to be sunk, for the 2016 holiday season at least. Hellenic Seaplanes has been trying to get a seaplane network out of deep water since 2013 but has yet to get a flight in the air. The latest setback is a Greek government plan for new laws to place private waterway projects under the control of the state. The move looks likely to put a damper on private investment in the long-awaited project and could lead to companies and private investors pulling their cash out of existing schemes. According to sources, a bill is expected to go before the Greek parliament which will seek to cancel all current private initiatives and to place projects into public-private partnerships. Permits for waterway landing and take-off strips, currently licensed to private companies, would be put in the hands of ports authorities or local municipalities. Hellenic Seaplanes, which had planned to open seaplane routes between scores of Greek islands this year are understandably furious at the development. Company chairman, Nicolas Charalambous described the bill as "unacceptable" and warns it will deter new investment and sink current private waterway projects. "We will take all action necessary and work hard to stop the negative course of action," said Mr Charalambous. Hellenic Seaplanes already has plans in place to launch 15 seaplane services on Skyros, Alonissos, Skopelos, Tinos, Patmos, Thassos, Chios, Psara, Oinousses, Sitia, Amfilochia, Edipsos, Karystos, Halkida, and Kymi. They had hoped to start operating its first hydroplane waterways in Greece this summer after nearly four years of planning and massive investment. This is just the latest in a series of frustrating setbacks for the ambitious project which even the government has called a scheme of 'national importance'. Since 2013 the company has spent thousands of euros in getting seaplane services in the air including cash for court hearings, environmental reports, fees and applications for licenses, even university courses to train potential waterway managers. The seaplane network is expected to breathe new life into remote islands, open opportunities for tourism and strengthening ties between Greek island communities. But there are currently more 50 waterway applications awaiting approval while government inertia leaves Greece's fledgeling waterway network now drowning in red tape. The Greek government changed the law to help speed up the issuing of permits required for the construction of waterways, but officials failed to grant a single license in 2015. Delays have been blamed on the failure to get a proper "legal framework" in place, problems with the granting of environmental licenses and the lethargy among island port authorities to issue permits for flying. Talks about launching a Greek seaplane network began in 2000, but 16 years later not a single public flight has got off the water. Bureaucratic red tape and government bungling were said to blame for the collapse of a similar scheme in 2008 when a Canadian company axed plans to operate seaplane services in the Greek islands.
The sell-off of many of the Greek Islands airports used by UK holidaymakers has been given the green light. The Greek government has finally ratified contracts with a German-Greek consortium to run 14 of its regional and island airports. The airports included in the contracts are on the of Crete, Corfu, Kefalonia, Kos, Mykonos, Mytilini, Rhodes, Samos, Santorini, Skiathos and Zakynthos. They also cover three mainland airports at Thessaloniki, Aktion and Kavala. More than 23 million passengers passed through the airports in 2015 with around 70% flying in for Greek islands holidays. The 2015 figures were a 6% rise on the year before and are fully expected to go even higher this year. Greece agreed a €1.2 billion deal with German airport operator Fraport to take over the management of the facilities earlier this year. The deal is part of a privatisation program aimed at building up the cash-strapped Greek economy and helping to pay off the country's bailout loans. Fraport, along with the Copelouzos Greek energy group, was granted a 40-year lease to run the regional airports which have been state-owned ever since they were built. Under the terms of the deal, the German-led consortium has two years to upgrade and renovate existing airports and four years to develop new buildings and other extensions. UK package holiday firms still don't know if the deal will lead to higher airport charges and an eventual hike in fares to Greek holiday tourists. Supporters day the move will increase airport income, create jobs and boost local island economies as well as providing better facilities and a faster tourist throughput. But the sell-off is not without its critics who complain at the disposal of valuable state assets. On Crete, there were protest demonstrations at the loss of the profitable airport at Chania. Fraport has promised to invest €300 million in improvements to the Greek island airports over the first four years of the deal. "We are convinced that our engagement in Greece will act as a catalyst for the growth of the country's vital tourism sector," said Alexander Zinell, Fraport Greece's CEO in response to the Greek government's ratification of the deal.
The cash-strapped Greek government looks set to axe subsidies for loss-making airline routes to several Greek Islands. The popular holiday island of Zante may be among those that will lose out when cutbacks come into force later this year. Greek Transport Minister Christos Spirtzis said the country could no longer afford to subsidise loss-making aircraft flights to remote islands. The government is to look at 'unprofitable routes' where airlines have benefitted from huge subsidies to keep flights operating. Among those set for the axe routes from Athens to Zante and Thessaloniki to Corfu. The move follows the privatisation of 14 airports across the Greek Islands earlier this year. Mr Spirtzis said the current system of subsidies costs around € 45 million a year. Many of the more remote Greek islands rely heavily on grants to maintain small airports and keep open vital links to the mainland. The Greek government is set to draw up new criteria for the allocation of subsidies which will take into account seasonality, passenger numbers, island population and economic need. The more remote the island, the less likely that subsidies will be cut, according to the government. Mr Spirtzis said that "really isolated island routes" would continue to operate and that islands like Kalymnos and Kastelorizo as well as other remote areas in Greece "should not worry". More than a dozen Greek Island airports were sold off to private investors earlier this year in a move aimed at filling the Greek government's cash-strapped coffers. A German - Greek consortium paid €1.2bn to run three mainland and 11 Greek island airports that together handle around 19 million passengers per year. They included airports on Crete, Corfu, Zante, Kefalonia, Rhodes, Kos, Skiathos, Mykonos, Santorini, Samos and Lesvos. Under terms of the deal, the consortium has two years to upgrade existing airports and four years to develop new buildings and other extensions. With tourist arrivals expected to reach record levels this year, many considered an upgrade of Greek island airports long overdue. Meanwhile, no-frills airline easyJet has announced a new summer route from London Stansted to Zante with weekly Saturday flights from May 28 .
Holiday visitors to Corfu may be the first to enjoy seaplane flights to other islands in the Ionian - but don't book tickets just yet. The Greek government is expected to give the go-ahead for the first inter-island seaplane flights early this year. And if licenses are granted in time, Greece's first seaplane network could link the islands of Corfu, Paxos, Zante, Kefalonia, Lefkas and the mainland port at Patra in 2016. But don't make plans just yet. It is not the first time we've heard that Greek Island seaplane service are about to take off. Holidaymakers were assured that seaplane links between the islands would be up and running by the summer of 2015. Currently, the Corfu island waterway is the only one in Greece with an official license to operate seaplane services but, being the only one, has nowhere for planes to fly. Red tape is blamed for delays in issuing licenses for other ports across Greece and the Greek Island despite local authorities being keen to launch seaplane services. A visit to Corfu by Chinese investors hoping to supply new Dornier Seastar seaplanes for the enterprise has reignited interest in the project. Chinese investors have already pumped € 120 million into the development of the Dornier Seastar and are keen to find customers for the seaplane. The Ionian waterway network would be an ideal place to launch the sea flights once the waterways get the green light. But, for seaplane services to become profitable, there will need to be a fully operational network across the whole of Greece, with as many operators as possible offering seaplane flights. Currently, more 50 applications for waterways are awaiting government approval across Greece as a new draft law is drawn up to help speed up the licensing procedure. And a Greek government spokesman called it 'reasonable to believe' that a small waterway network could be operating in the Ionian in the coming months. The company behind the new waterway on Corfu says the aim is to have at least five licensed waterways fully operation in the Ionian this year. A waterway in the nearby mainland port of Patra is vital to seaplane operations in the wider region of Western Greece, and officials are confident it will get an operational seaplane licence in the next few weeks. Waterways on the Ionian islands of Kefalonia, Zante, and Lefkas could get operational licenses within the next three months. But this is not the first time that the public has been assured of seaplane services up and running in time for the lucrative tourist season Getting Greek Islands seaplane flights off the ground has been a long haul, with talk of a waterway network as long ago as 2000. A Canadian company pulled out of plans for seaplane flights in 2008, complaining of endless Greek bureaucracy, belligerent unions and mountains of red tape. Despite laws being passed in 2013 to help speed up development of seaplane waterways, by 2016 the Greek government had granted only a single licence - the one to Corfu. Waterway licenses are in the pipeline for islands such as Alonissos, Patmos, Paxos, Crete, Skopelos, Skyros, Tinos and Zante, but authorities will give no firm date for approval. Ministry officials blame the delays on to the current legal framework and the time it takes to get environmental approval for many of the waterway schemes. Hellenic Seaplanes, had hoped to start seaplane flights in 2014 and had plans to operate from 112 waterways by this year. To date, the only take-offs have been for test flights and no firm date has yet been set for any seaplane service anywhere in Greece or the Greek Islands.
Cruise ships are still sailing into Greek ports despite some islands suffering heavily from the refugee crisis. Latest figures show a 12% rise in curse she arrivals in ports across Greece and the Greek islands in 2015. Greece is gradually turning into one of the most popular cruise destinations in the Mediterranean with the outlook for 2016 appearing positive despite the refugee problem on many islands. The Hellenic Ports Association) reports ship arrivals in Greece up from 3,826 in 2014 to 4,279 in 2015. And travel agents do not appear to have been put off by stories of some islands being 'swamped' by refugees. Increased cruise ship arrivals were reported at Rhodes and Chios with no effect on Lesvos and just a small fall for Kos. The number of cruise passengers to Greek island ports pushed past the half million mark making Greece the third most popular cruise travel destination in the Mediterranean. Greek ports posting the highest number of cruise ship arrivals are Piraeus, Santorini, Mykonos, Corfu, Katakolon, Rhodes, Kefalonia, Patmos and the Crete ports of Heraklion and Chania. The growing refugee crisis is having its effects felt internally however as Greece comes under fire for its poor management of the problem. The Greek government has pledged to send in extra staff to help at screening centres on the worst affected islands and to build two relocation camps on the mainland, Five special screening centres will be set up on the islands of Lesvos, Samos, Chios, Kos and Leros to handle the ever-growing number of refugees entering Europe through Greece. The government will also convert two former military camps on the mainland as into relocation centres to house 4,000 refugees each. Island officials, however, fear that the latest moves could attract even more refugees to islands already struggling with high numbers. Greece has been seen as the gateway into Europe for refugees fleeing from Syria through Turkey, with more than a million passing through in 2015 and rising numbers this year.
Plans to launch a Greek Island seaplane service in 2016 appears to be drowning in red tape and it's not the first time that a scheme to link the islands with seaplane service has failed to get off the ground. Despite laws being passed in 2013 to help speed up development of seaplane waterways, the Greek government failed to grant a single licence in 2015. The Ionian island of Corfu is the only one to currently hold a license to operate seaplane flight but, as yet, its planes have nowhere to land. The Greek Ministry of Transport says applications for waterway licences are in the pipeline for Agia Marina, Alonissos, Amfilochia, Grammatiko, Lavrio, Patmos, Patra, Paxos, Rethymnon, Skopelos, Skyros, Thessaloniki, Tinos Volos and Zante. But no one has any idea when they are likely to be granted, and no one is holding his breath. According to Ministry officials, the latest delays are due to the "current legal framework" not being in place. Another major hold-up is the failure to grant environmental licenses to any of the ongoing projects. It's a bit of a sorry mess. Seaplane services to many Greek islands were touted to get in the air by 2015. The chief operator, Hellenic Seaplanes, was to start the first flights more than a year ago and had plans to operate from 112 waterways by this year. The company recently said that it hopes to launch its first hydroplane flights this summer to link the Sporades islands with Volos and Thessaloniki, but I wouldn't book a ticket just yet. Talks about launching a Greek seaplane network began in 2000 with speedier access to island boosting local economies. Sixteen years later and a seaplane is yet to fly on an inter-island network thanks mainly say some to a lack of organisation and a proper legal framework. By common agreement seaplane service would bring a welcome boost to tourism on many of the more remote Greek islands. Bureaucratic red tape was to blame for the collapse of a similar scheme in 2008. A Canadian company accused the Greek government of excessive bureaucratic red tape.
Greek airports welcomed thousands more holiday visitors last year according to latest figures. International arrivals at airports in Greece and the Greek Islands in 2015 jumped nearly six percent to 15.5 million. When arrivals by sea and overland are factored in it looks likely that Greek tourism will notch up another record year in 2015 with more than 25 million holiday visitors. Figures from the Greek Tourism Confederation (SETE) showed Athens as the most popular holiday destination with a huge 22.6% rise in arrivals between January and December 2015. Air arrivals across Greece, excluding Athens, were up around 77,000 compared to 2014 and airports in the Greek Islands also saw a rise in passenger numbers through passport control. The Cyclades islands and the Ionian saw the biggest increase in arrivals by air last year - up 15% and nearly 8% respectively. Islands in the Dodecanese and airports on Crete saw a small drop of around 4% but, with overall tourist figures up it is likely that more tourists arrived by ferry. Tourism development in the Greek islands was top of the agenda at a recent meeting in Athens between Greek Tourism Minister Elena Kountoura and the Secretary General for the Aegean, Ioannis Giannelis. The South Aegean region plans a major promotion next year with the island of Rhodes at the forefront of a campaign to attract more holiday visitors. The promotion plans to make the most of social networking and the Internet as well to tap into new tourism options. Many islands are also looking to extend the tourist season from the traditional May to September with schemes to ensure hotels, tavernas and attractions stay open longer.
Greece has finally leased out its main state-run regional airports to a private German-Greek consortium after months of negotiations. Airports on the holiday islands of Mykonos, Kos, Santorini, Kefalonia, Samos, Corfu, Rhodes, Skiathos, Zante and Chania on Crete are included in the €1.23 billion deal. Although welcomed by the Greek Tourism Confederation (SETE), the deal has its critics. Regional governors on the Ionian islands launched an online referendum on privatising the island airports. When the deal was first announced, Ionian Islands Prefect Theodoros Galiatsatos warned that the deal would have a severe impact the Ionian economy. The Ionian islands are an important tourist gateway to Greece with the popular holiday hotspots of Corfu, Kefalonia, Lefkas and Zante among them. They fear a big hike in landing fees that will put off low-cost airlines and charter companies with a knock-on effect for holiday package deals. Under the 40-year agreement, ownership of the airports will remain with the Greek government, but the consortium will be free to run them as they think fit. The offer consists of an upfront payment of €1.23 billion and an annual inflation-adjusted payment of €23 million. The 14 Greek regional airports in the deal served some 22 million passengers in 2014 and are expected to handle 23 million passengers by the end of this year. The German-Greek consortium is expected to spend more than €300 million on upgrading the airports by 2020 and create around 1,500 new jobs. Selling off state-run assets will help swell Greece's depleted coffers as it struggles to pay off international loans. Other projects in the privatisation pipeline include the Greek railways, postal services, telecommunications and a stake in Athens International Airport.
Greek holidays are on the rise despite the country's economic turmoil, the refugee crisis and increased tax rates on tourist goods and services. Latest figures show an 8% rise in tourist spending in the first six months of 2015 and yet another rise in visitor numbers as more tourists then ever book holidays in Greece and the Greek Islands. According to data released by the Bank of Greece this week, a total of 7.56 million visitors arrived on Greek holidays in the six months to June, up 20.8% on the visitor numbers for the same period last year. Holiday arrivals from the UK are up 18% on last year as tourists shrugged off negative newspaper articles on the struggling economy and the problems of tackling huge numbers of refugees from war-torn regions of the Middle East. Tourists from Germany are also back, with a 23% increase on last year while visitors from the United Stated are up a whopping 42%, although this is on relatively low baseline compared to the UK and Germany. British tourists are thought to have spent €678 million so far this year, up 30% on last year while the German tourists spent €653 million, a rise of 18%. Overall, tourism receipts to June grew 8% on last year to €4.1 billion. Greek holiday cash not only helps Greece balance the books, but it also contributes massively to the country's employment levels, according to the Greek Tourism Confederation (SETE). Figures show that the level of paid employment offered by the Greek tourism industry in 2014 rose 23%, a year that saw record numbers taking Greek Islands holidays. Jobs in the restaurant, bar and cafe sector rose 39% last year while jobs at campsites jumped 30%, hotel work went up 15% and travel agencies report jobs up by 12%. During July 2014, Greece's tourism industry is calculated to have generated more than 137,00 jobs. In the summer months, tourism related jobs account for one-third of the paid employment in the private sector. And it's not just seasonal cheap labour that is helping to keep the Greek economy afloat. In 2014, a total of €3.8 billion was paid out in salaries, an increase of some €500 million on 2013, while the average monthly salary in the hotel sector topped €1,000. The direct contribution of tourism to Greece's GDP in 2014 was €17 billion, about 9.3% of the country's wealth, while indirect revenues take that figure to well over 16%. The figures are welcome news for Greece's tourism industry which forecast a slump in holidays over uncertainty at how badly affected visitor numbers would be by the economic troubles, the closure of the country's banks and the imposition of capital controls after the government announced a referendum on its membership of the European Union. It was found that there was practically no impact on tourist satisfaction in Greece, which remained at very high levels despite the problems. Greek hotels received a very high guest satisfaction rating of 85.6% in July, despite the uncertainty about capital controls, according to data released by In SETE. The overall satisfaction rating for Greek hotels in the first six months of 2015 was 84.3%. Overall satisfaction of Greek hotel guests is higher than rival destinations while ratings on the value for money, location, service and food stayed steady or both Greece and rival destinations such as Spain and Turkey. The Greek Tourism Confederation is now confident the country has weathered the worst. It estimates that arrivals for 2015 will remain strong to the end of the year, reaching 25 million and bring in some €14 billion in receipts.
Greek island hopping for holidaymakers in Greece just got more expensive thanks to a sharp rise in VAT imposed by the cash-hungry Greek government. The price of ferry tickets in Greece has jumped 10% overnight after the Greek government raised VAT rates on many good and services from 13% to 23%. Greek holiday passengers booking a ferry from the Athens' port of Piraeus to the island of Paros in the Cyclades, for instance, will now pay €36.50 instead of the €33.50 price before the VAT hike. Many holidaymakers prefer ferry hopping around the Greek islands to booking the usual package tour trips. Regular ferry sailings, plenty of overnight accommodation, a choice of local tavernas and the freedom to roam hold great appeal on a Greek island holidays. Although room and food prices have remained relatively low, the price of ferry tickets in Greece has been a problem, even before the VAT hike. Ferry ticket prices have included extra charges for port fees plus a 3% surcharge towards financing routes to remote destinations. The latest VAT hike will make many routes much more expensive. Ferry tickets from Athens to Chania, on Crete, for a family of four, for example, will cost and extra €36 as the price goes up fro €297 to €313 after the VAT increase. Ferry companies are forecasting a drop in passenger numbers of 20-30% as a direct result of the rise in fares this year and expect to carry up to three million fewer passengers. According to the Greek Foundation for Economic and Industrial Research) tourism accounted for 65%of ferry passengers traffic in 2014 with 8.7 million choosing the island hopping option on their holidays in Greece with 5.2 million Greek holidaymakers catching the ferry and 3.4 million passengers from abroad. But holiday visitors to the Greek islands can expect to see even more price rises next year. The Greek government has voted to end the special low VAT rates on the islands, originally intended to offset the cost of importing goods Many islands enjoyed a 30% discount on VAT for goods and services which have helped promote the islands as a cheap summer holiday destination. The low VAT rates will end in July next year when islands must pay the full VAT rates although more remote islands will enjoy the tax discount until January 2017. The move has been widely condemned by many in the tourism industry who warn that the numbers of holiday visitors will suffer and that Greece will lose out on vital overseas revenue. Greece was hoping to attract a record 25 million holiday visitors this year with the prospect of cheap holidays but the recent poor publicity over the country's finances coupled with the latest price rises will make meeting that target a major challenge.