German taxi driver Rudolf Kugel, who says he’s visited Greece more times than he can count, won’t be going again anytime soon to the Mediterranean sunspot because he’s concerned about the reaction of local people.
“They hold Germans responsible for all their misery,” said the 62-year-old from near Stuttgart. “You want to go on holiday to have a comfortable break, not to be lynched.”
It’s thinking like Kugel’s which has contributed to declines of as much as a third in bookings from Germans planning their summer break in Greece, according to Air Berlin Plc (AB1) and TUI AG (TUI1), which owns Europe’s biggest travel company. Their avoidance is further hampering Greece’s economic woes.
Tourism is Greece’s biggest industry, accounting for almost 16 percent of the country’s gross domestic product in 2011, and almost one in five jobs, according to the London-based World Travel and Tourism Council. The 2.2 million Germans who visited Greece last year represented the biggest national group at 13.6 percent of the total, according to the Hellenic Statistical Authority, ahead of the British at 10.7 percent.
Germany has increasingly become a target of criticism in Greece, which is struggling to enact structural changes needed to receive an international bailout and pull itself out of a recession. The country is preparing for June 17 elections after an inconclusive May 6 ballot.
Some Greek politicians have evoked memories of the country’s Nazi occupation during World War II following Germany’s insistence that Greek adhere to the terms of the bailout agreement. The turmoil in the southern European country has led to speculation that it may leave the euro.
The leader of Greece’s Syriza Party, Alexis Tsipras, urged Germans during a visit to Berlin yesterday to show their solidarity in picking his country for their summer vacation. Tsipras has pledged to rip up the terms of Greece’s rescue and halt the austerity measures already agreed with creditors.
“You’ll experience hospitality that is always warm- hearted, to Germans certainly,” said Tsipras, whose party led a recent poll of voting intentions for June 17 elections. “We believe our country is part of a great family --and you’re our big brothers.”
The Germans need encouragement. Revenue from German tourists declined 61 percent to 10.3 million euros in February, the most recent month for which there is data available, while there were 12.7 percent fewer arrivals from Europe’s biggest economy compared with the previous year, the Bank of Greece (TELL) said April 25.
“At the moment I would not go on holidays to Greece,” Gerda Lambert, 62, said in Frankfurt yesterday. “I want to relax on my holidays and due to the political tensions in Greece right now, it is not certain that I could do that.”
The downward trend in bookings has resumed after a slight resurgence in March, according to Anja Braun, a Hanover, Germany-based spokeswoman for TUI.
“Ever since the discussions about an exit from the euro zone started and the election at the start of May, bookings to Greece have slowed down again,” she said by telephone. “At the very beginning, in November, they were down about 30 percent.”
The declines have been echoed at Air Berlin, Europe’s third-biggest discount carrier, which has carried 30 percent fewer passengers to Greece this year from Germany, Chief Executive Officer Hartmut Mehdorn said yesterday.
Some Germans’ concerned were fueled last week after a 78- year-old Dutchman was reported by state news agency ANA to have been hospitalized after an attack by two men in southern Greece who mistook him for a German.
‘Want Them Back’
“I don’t think that Greeks want to attack Germans,” said 53-year-old Kostas Dimitrokalis, who owns five hotels in Santorini, an island formed from the remnants of a caldera 125 miles southeast of the Greek mainland. “It is all just words in the newspapers, nothing serious. Greeks don’t hate Germans.”
Deutsche Lufthansa AG (LHA), Europe’s second-biggest carrier and Germany’s largest, hasn’t seen any significant decline in traffic to Athens, its only Greek destination, according to Frankfurt-based spokesman Boris Ogursky.
“We carry predominantly businessmen, with some holidaymakers, but just to Athens, not to the Greek islands as Air Berlin does,” he said.
Hotel-owner Dimitrokalis is hopeful that the political tension will be resolved soon and has one overwhelming sentiment toward the Germans: “We want them to come back.”
To contact the reporters on this story: Alex Webb in Frankfurt at firstname.lastname@example.org; Joseph de Weck in Frankfurt at email@example.com; Eleni Chrepa in Athens at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chad Thomas at email@example.com