July 3, 2020 / 11:45 AM / a month ago

As tourists trickle back to resorts, Greeks have modest expectations

RHODES, Greece (Reuters) - Shops shuttered and streets abandoned, the island of Rhodes is pinning its hopes on a trickle of tourists to salvage what is left of a holiday season decimated by the coronavirus pandemic.

A waiter wears a protective face shield at a beach bar, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, on the island of Kos, Greece, June 29, 2020. Picture taken June 29, 2020. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

One of Greece’s busiest resort islands, the cobbled streets of the imposing medieval city of Rhodes town were empty this week. At this rate, only a few hotels will open this year, locals say.

“We have never experienced anything like this, not at least for the past 50 to 60 years,” said Manolis Markopoulos, head of the hoteliers association in Rhodes.

Greece opened its regional airports, including in Rhodes, to travellers this week.

At present, only about 20 percent of hotels are open, and the next two weeks will be an important gauge of how the season will perform, Markopoulos said.

“If we show 20-25% compared to performance last year that would be a happy outcome,” he said.

The picture on nearby Kos island was similar with rows of empty sunloungers, placed apart to meet distancing rules.

Greeks are optimistic something can be recovered from the season, banking on the record of Greek authorities in keeping a lid on the outbreak by locking down early. It has recorded fewer than 3,500 cases of COVID-19 and 192 deaths.

“It might just be time for Greece to reap returns from its excellent performance in managing the pandemic,” said Konstantina Svinou, head of the Kos hotels association.

Others just want to keep their heads above water. Greece’s tourism sector accounts for a fifth of its economic output and employs 700,000 people.

“We want to believe that even with 30-40% occupancy that we will meet some fixed expenses, that staff can get their salaries and pay social insurance to be able to get the unemployment benefit in the winter,” said Hasan Hadji Suleyman, who runs a beach bar and restaurant on Kos.

Writing by Michele Kambas; Editing by Janet Lawrence

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