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Greece tries to woo back tourists with free holiday

By JONATHAN POWELL in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-04-12 09:41
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Tourist sit at a hill overlooking the Acropolis in Athens, Greece, April 2, 2024. [Photo/Agencies]

Nine months after wildfires ravaged the Greek island of Rhodes, the country's government has introduced what it describes as "free" vacations for those tourists who were forced to evacuate.

In what tourism officials are hailing as an unprecedented global initiative, up to 25,000 affected vacationers will now be entitled to reimbursement starting this week, The Guardian reported.

"The scheme is up and running as the prime minister promised," the Greece Tourism Ministry's general secretary, Myron Flouris, said. "It's been a very complicated process not least, I think, because we're the first country in the world to do this."

Individuals who lodged in hotels and were evacuated because of the wildfires in July are offered e-vouchers worth up to 500 euros ($540) to off set the cost of a weeklong stay. The project will operate in two stages: from now until May 31, and then from Oct 1 to Nov 15.Officials in Rhodes have reported a substantial response, with more than 5,000 vacationers already signing up for the initiative.

"Anyone who was staying in areas that were affected by the fires is eligible," Yannis Papavasiliou, head of the island's union of hoteliers, said. "The response has been very good and we are told will be even stronger come the autumn."

Beneficiaries will receive what they originally paid to tour operators, varying from 300 to 500 euros, he said. "It will apply only to hotels, not Airbnb-style private accommodation. At the end of the day, Greece is making good on its promise to recompense all those who lost their holidays because of climate change."

The majority of individuals transported on repatriation flights were citizens of the United Kingdom. Shortly after thousands of stranded vacationers were forced to end their trips last summer, the country's center-right government, headed by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, unveiled the plan for compensation on ITV's Good Morning Britain breakfast TV program.

During a visit to the island on Monday, Mitsotakis, who authorized the large-scale evacuation as a precautionary action, said wildfires would likely escalate because of the climate crisis.

"All of the Mediterranean is a hot spot for climate change. That, statistically, means we will have more fires and probably more floods," he said. "It wasn't easy… to evacuate 25,000 visitors, but we did it safely and we are very proud of the fact that we managed to confront this crisis essentially without mourning (the loss) of human life."

Sara van Oostrum, a business proprietor from southern England, told The Guardian that she and her partner intend to accept the offer, but they had "mixed feelings" about whether to return to the hotel and beach they stayed at. "We'd probably prefer to stay elsewhere on the island to move on from the whole experience," she said.

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