Five reasons to go claim your big fat Greek vacation!

Greece’s economic disparities have catapulted its visibility beyond unprecedented heights. With headlines alluding that “Greece will bankrupt the euro,” it is easy to dismiss the current situation as yet another sensational news story. But, as in typical Greek fashion, the moment can be seized to showcase one of Greece’s best assets—tourism.

Amid the economic crisis that has increasingly rattled the Mediterranean destination in the last ten years, Greece remains a safe country to visit. Greece has its history to back this irrefutable fact. Greeks living in Athens may have taken their protest (yet again) to the capital’s streets, but no one can argue that their actions have had negative repercussions to the country’s travel and tourism industry thus far.

Countries and the global travel and tourism industry have reacted cautiously to the ongoing economic debacle, but there is no doubt that Greece can count on the global travel and tourism industry as its ally. Significantly, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) in May 2010 appealed to all tourism stakeholders to show their solidarity with Greece during “this challenging period,” thereby stressing that the sector should not be suffering unfairly as a result of the current economic situation. UNWTO secretary-general, Taleb Rifai, was then quoted as saying: “The upcoming summer season is a vital opportunity for all players in the industry to show their support for tourism in Greece, one of the most important destinations in the world and a reference for all of us. Letting down the tourism sector in Greece would only contribute to accelerate the current difficulties. We have an obligation towards Greece.”

In 2008, after traveling to Zimbabwe, I participated in the First European International Peace through Tourism Conference (held in Leeuwarden, the Netherlands) where the opportunity to interview Kathy Sudeikis, former president of the American Society of Travel Agents, presented itself. She argued that “tourism can not end under any circumstance.” ( Places like Zimbabwe, which at the time of the interview was undergoing its share of major difficulties, are “are time tested. They have been here forever.” I will take the liberty to argue the same in favor of Greece. Greek tourism is time-tested and has been “here forever.” The current economic crisis is simply no reason for any disruption to the beleaguered country’s travel and tourism industry. On the contrary, it is the perfect opportunity to remind the world that Greeks are great hosts for tourists.

Why should you travel to Greece? Let me count the ways:

1. Win-win
According to the secretary general of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), Taleb Rifai, Greece welcomed 15 million international tourists in 2010, raking in close to US$13 billion in tourism receipts. “Inbound tourism expenditure in 2009 accounted for 25% of Greece’s exports of goods and services,” he said, “As such, tourism is one of the country’s principal export sectors and a vital source of employment and economic growth.”

Simply put, if you travel to Greece, you are helping its economy. For consumers, this is a win-win situation because, as Robert J. Samuelson of the Washington Times argued, the situation “makes exports and local tourism cheaper.”

2. Safety
If you are somehow dissuaded from traveling to Greece by the images that you are seeing in the news, don’t be. History shows that there has never been a case where a tourist was hurt as a result of any protests or unrest in Greece. UNWTO secretary general Taleb Rifai argued: “Recent protests in Greece, notably in the capital Athens, are not expected to impact tourism flows to the country in the long term. Such unrest is being witnessed in a number of countries facing austerity measures – particularly in Europe – but, to date, has had little effect on tourism results.”

Greeks are cognizant of the fact that tourism is one of the major economic pillars in their country. This being the case, Greece knows not to mess with tourism and even at its most volatile moments, infrastructure remains intact and tourists can freely roam without worrying about their safety. So far, no government has issued a travel ban. This in itself should put travelers at ease.

3. Culture
This article clearly references its title to the popular movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” This is not to downplay the gravity of the situation in Greece in any way, but rather to point one very simple fact: There has never been a more opportune time to really get to know Greek culture than now. With the whole country in such a heightened state of being, everything Greek is a lot more pronounced. Here is a chance to get to know the country from a unique perspective where every nuance, every action, every reaction manifests themselves in ways that will pique the interest of even the most jaded journalist and/or cynical spectator. For some, Greeks have historically played an integral role in civilization. What better way to gain a modern perspective on this notion than through personal experience? Tourism can make this happen.

4. Tradition
Greece has an array of traditional tourist attractions that really need no explanation. If the allure of the Greek islands have long enticed you, then by all means go! From personal experience, the voyage to the islands in itself (via one of the ferry services) is smooth and meets the core tourist requirement—it is scenic. An added incentive, you’re guaranteed a glimpse of other Greek islands along the way. The ferries conform to international standards, so you can expect high quality service that guarantees a comfortable journey.

Similarly, if Athens has been on your bucket-list, then this is an excellent time to go and gallivant in the Greek capital. With careful planning, should you not want to see the protests, a memorable hike to the top of Acropolis awaits, as the many cafes that parade along the streets of Athens do. They promise to deliver excellent dining experience and chance meetings with locals. Getting off at a wrong subway stop could mean a chance to get acquainted with cafes such as “Why Sleep? Café and Bar,” which epitomizes Greek nightlife—vibrant music, lively people and great food! It also doesn’t hurt that Acropolis visibly sits atop nearby and is perfectly lit during the night to show the world its majestic glory. Such an experience can never be truly expressed in words nor pictures; it is best experience first-hand.

5. Altruism
The current situation challenges the very notion of responsible tourism in that it posits to so-called responsible tourists the question: Can you put your money where your mouth is? People who deem themselves as responsible tourists recognize that Greece could use their support. To put in perspective, the country is in dire economic straits, paving responsible tourists a way to actually make a difference. How? By simply showing up at Greece’s airports, hotels and tourist attractions.

The song “We Are the World” was not created with Greece in mind, but the words “there comes a time when we heed a certain call” hold great meaning for Greek tourism and should serve as motivation for tourists to do something good, especially those who are self-proclaimed responsible tourists. As media mogul Ted Turner famously said in last month’s World Travel & Tourism Council summit in Las Vegas, Nevada, “we all want to do good for other people.” If you agree, Greece makes a compelling case as a good place to put this into action.

So, whether you have planned to travel to Greece this year or not, I hope that at least one of the reasons listed above has put Greece in your “for my travel consideration” list. The country needs to be commended for being an exemplary nation. For example, the country gave birth to the Olympic Games, which throughout history have provided a venue that “unified national, spiritual and racial beliefs.” The Olympic Games may have evolved to become the foremost global sporting event, but its core message has remained the same and has transcended through time. To this day, it still serves as an excellent source of national pride, not only for its host country but also for all nations that participate. Time-tested, this is undoubtedly a remarkable contribution to mankind.

From a broader perspective, Greece dominates in historical significance. Do you know where your Achille’s tendon is? Ask a Greek, as many of today’s medical terms have Greek origins. Equally celebrated are Greece’s integral contributions in science, literature, education, to name a few. The list could go on, but is unnecessary. Ultimately, Greece is a country that has served many purposes in both Ancient and Modern times. Perhaps, now is a good time to show Greece our gratitude. It only requires one crucial step: travel to Greece.