My job as president of a travel company affords me the opportunity to see travel trends first-hand, as bookings to different destinations rise and fall with the times. The most recent trend I've come across? Bookings to Greece are in a terrible slump. In my opinion, this unfortunate situation is due to the perception that Greece is in chaos, rather than Greece actually being in chaos.
While it's true that the Greek economy is in shambles and there is a great deal of turmoil politically (elections last month were considered to be an important referendum on the future of the Euro), it is absolutely not true that Greece, the destination that everyone knows and loves, is in chaos. And it is really unfortunate that the travel media has not stepped up to take a stand on precisely this point.
Greece is not going through an "Arab spring" type of event. For the most part, demonstrations in Greece have been against the draconian economic measures taken by the government to save the nation from bankruptcy. Greek people are not demonstrating in the streets against an army, unwilling to cede power, shooting, and otherwise causing mayhem.
On the contrary, Greece is still the magnificently beautiful country that is our cradle of Western civilization. On any given day, there are more fascinating things to see and do in Greece than in most other destinations around the world. There is history, archeology, gorgeous scenery, romance, music, warm and welcoming people, fabulous food and wine, and just about every type of distraction you might desire.
None of this, not a single thing, has been sidelined due to the Greek economic mess. So why, I ask, in light of the huge reductions in prices that Greek travel providers are desperately offering to try and lure reluctant travelers back, are we not visiting Greece?
I return to the idea of the perception that the country is a mess. As a result, the distinction between economic mess and violent revolution is not clear, and travelers don't feel safe to travel there. The travel media has a great deal of power to correct errors in perception and help restore the image of Greece as a perfect destination for a summer vacation.
Where are the articles explaining the difference between economic problems and war? Where are the travel writers who can easily hop over and view things for themselves? Why aren't they doing precisely that, and then reporting the true state of the country in their articles, Twitter feeds, and Facebook pages?
The sad irony is that the more we stay away, the more the economic crisis deepens, because make no mistake -- tourism is a very, very big deal to Greece.
Next week, Eli and Aileen Fink, our CFO and Operations Manager at Friendly Planet Travel respectively, are taking their two young daughters on a vacation to Greece. They are not being cavalier with their daughters' or their own well-being. Rather, they are taking advantage of a great opportunity to visit a place that provides plenty of interesting activities for their entire family, including a 12-year old mythology expert and a nine-year-old fashionista.
When they get back from their trip, they'll report on conditions in Greece as they found them. Personally, as a grandmother who is also not a risk-taker with precious granddaughters, I truly doubt they'll have anything to report other than "a wonderful time was had by all."
In the meantime, on behalf of all the people in the Greek tourism industry who are struggling with a double crisis -- their nation's bankruptcy and the travel industry's implosion -- I ask everyone who is still thinking of where to go this summer to consider -- or reconsider -- Greece. You won't be sorry.
A form of this blog post originally appeared on blog.FriendlyPlanet.com.
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