Refugee crisis deals blow to island tourism

28 December 2016
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Tourism on the eastern Aegean islands of Lesvos, Chios and Samos was dealt a devastating blow by the migrant crisis, with the main impact in the form of cancellations of hotel bookings, conferences, cruise ship arrivals and flights from abroad, as well as the contraction of the season and the decline in business turnover, according to a survey by V&O for the Regional Authority of the Northern Aegean.

The study found that a number of tourism accommodation units were forced to shut down at least two months before the customary end of the season due to a lack of business.

The international focus on the three Greek islands has shifted away from their natural beauty, relaxing atmospheres, fascinating histories, delicious flavors and rich traditions toward upsetting images of refugees and migrant camps.

The new conditions have reversed the growth of tourism and, consequently, the local economies on Lesvos, Chios and Samos, as the major drop in both domestic and international visitors has also affected businesses beyond the tourism sector.

The associations of hoteliers on the eastern Aegean islands have demanded that the Tourism Ministry include these destinations in promotional programs for 2017, recommending that international tour operators create special seven- or 14-day holiday packages in an effort to avoid another year of disastrous figures in terms of tourism.

Charter flight arrivals on Lesvos posted a year-on-year decline of 58.75 percent from April to October, the survey showed, with visitors coming mainly from the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Norway and Austria. Besides arrivals from those markets, all charter flights to Lesvos from Sweden, the Czech Republic, Finland, Belgium, Italy, Poland and Slovenia were scrapped altogether.

Chios experienced a third consecutive year of decline in charter flights, amounting to 68.91 percent from 2015. Flights came from the Netherlands and Norway, while the weekly flights from Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovenia in 2015 were suspended this year. Worse still, no charter flights are planned for Chios in 2017.

On Samos, charter flight arrivals fell by 23.14 percent from last year, with visitors coming from Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland and Britain. Besides the drop in flights from the above markets, there were no arrivals at all from France or Poland.

The survey also recorded a decline in charter flight arrivals on the island of Limnos, near Lesvos, amounting to 17.6 percent on annual basis, with the markets of Italy and Poland ignoring the island entirely.

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