Paving the way for tourism to reopen

People are seen at a balcony of the Mitsis Grand Hotel Beach amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Rhodes on the island of Rhodes, Greece April 12, 2021. REUTERS/Louiza Vradi

Almost 200 Dutch tourists traded lockdown in the Netherlands for eight days of voluntary confinement in a Greek beach resort, as part of a test to see if safe holidays can be arranged during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m very excited,” said Amy Smulders, 25, a graphic designer who travelled with her sister, beaming beneath her face mask as she waited for her luggage on Rhodes island on Monday.
“It feels very strange to be here, but (I’m) really excited to go on holiday.”

For 399 euros ($475) each, participants will have “all-inclusive” access to the pool, restaurants and other facilities of the Mitsis Grand Hotel Beach, but nothing else.

As well as regular COVID-19 tests and remaining 1.5 metres apart, they must settle for watching the Aegean Sea from their rooms or terraces, as no one is allowed to leave the resort, where they will be the only guests.

“I could never imagine that, but this is all we could get right now and we will enjoy it,” said Terry Oorschot, 49, an IT worker.

Despite the restrictions, demand for the trip was high, with around 25,000 people applying.

Tourism-dependent Greece is eager to draw people back after a devastating 2020 that saw visitor numbers plunge to a quarter of the previous year’s level.

“It’s very important for people to start coming to us,” said Konstantinos Taraslias, deputy mayor for tourism on Rhodes, Greece’s fourth-biggest island, which caters almost exclusively to foreigners.

Dutch tour operator Sunweb, which organised the Dutch government-backed trip, hopes the experiment will show that people can still enjoy a holiday, even with strict safety regimes, and pave the way for tourism to reopen.

“For the travel industry it’s extremely important. I don’t think a lot of companies will survive another summer without travelling,” Sunweb Chief Executive Mattijs ten Brink said.

Confining people to resorts, however, probably won’t be the solution in the long run, he added.

Locals on Rhodes had mixed feelings.

“I don’t think it really benefits restaurant businesses like ours,” said Giannis Chalikias, general manager for a group of restaurants on the island.

“It’s the first experiment, certainly there’ll be a second and a third, and at some point things can return to how they were,” he said.


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