The COVID-19 pandemic may have dealt Greece’s tourism a devastating blow, but it is proving to be a boon for many European home hunters, turning this sun-drenched country and its islands into the biggest buyer’s market in over a decade.
British demand alone has surged by more than 200% in recent weeks, riding a rising tide of investment interest since the UK government announced plans to relax travel restrictions weeks ago, local and international real estate agents say.
Read more: Holiday homes in demand among ‘safety-first’ travelers
In a spray of data recently released by Britain’s biggest property marketplace, Rightmove, Greece ranked as the hottest search destination in Europe, next to Spain, France, Portugal and Italy. The interest, in fact, has been so intense that more than a million online inquiries were recorded on the day the government announced its new travel orders in late June.
Location, location, location
Across the board, the five favored destinations — Greece, Spain, France, Portugal and Italy — reported a 340% rise in overseas interest compared to figures recorded in mid-June, real estate officials say.
But Greece, says Piers Williams of Chestertons Ionian “is really bouncing back … It has been over a decade since we had such activity.”
A villa for sale on the island of Corfu, Greece, with an amazing view
Whether the flood of inquiries will lead to solid sales, however, remains unclear. Despite relaxed travel orders, Britons largely remain wary of traveling outside their country, no less to Greece to seal prospective property deals, agents concede.
But German nationals are already on the ground, snatching up deals, they tell DW. So too, are home hunters from France, Austria and Switzerland.
“The phone just hasn’t stopped ringing,” says Hillary Dawson of Crete Homes. “I have viewings lined up solid for the rest of the summer months,” she adds, having just returned from showing a seaside estate to a French couple that lost no time driving down to Greece this week to negotiate a property deal at the island’s picturesque town of Agios Nikolaos.
Good news, bad news
Official figures have not yet been released, but industry officials estimate that German property investments alone have spiked by 50% in recent months, targeting large swathes of arid land in the Peloponnese and million-dollar villas on whitewashed islands like Amorgos, Crete, Karpathos and Corfu — all property put on the market largely because of the Greece’s tanking national economy.
With the country heavily reliant on tourism and the industry paralyzed by the coronavirus pandemic, the European Union has warned that Greece’s economy will contract by 9.7% this year. This would be almost one percentage point greater than in 2011, the worst year of a decadelong recession that nearly pushed the eurozone’s poorest member out of the single currency.
The irony? Greece has been hugely successful in handling the pandemic. Its continued bid to keep the country relatively COVID-19-free — less than 200 deaths have been reported among a total number of 3,826 cases — has been the driving force behind the house-hunting boom among foreigners.
“People just feel safer here,” says Williams of Chestertons. “And they want to preserve that safety under the sun.”
For British clients, the Brexit factors also weighs in. “COVID-19 may have scuppered their relocation designs, but the mad dash is on and all are now rushing, almost desperate to buy a home by the end of the year in order to get [European Union] residency status,” Dawson says.
If you build it …
Heightened arrivals from the UK are due later this week, when the government in Athens scraps its ban on British tourists, allowing them free and unfettered entry to the country starting July 15.
Next to the nearly 4 million German nationals who holiday here each year, bringing in more than €2.5 billion ($2.8 billion) in hard currency, British nationals account for Greece’s biggest pool of foreign visitors.
A house for sale on the island of Corfu, Greece
Of some 5,750 properties listed on Rightmove alone, 1,754 are on Crete and are mainly private retreats ranging from around €10,000 to over €10 million. More than 25 listings include massive seaside resorts, a cafe bar and large expanses of beachfront property for development.
Read more: Greece: For recognized refugees, the hardship isn’t over
The list is expected to grow, including more commercial plots and investment properties. Short of a miraculous upsurge in bookings in the coming months, as much as 65% of the nation’s hotels are forecast to face potential bankruptcy — many of them on the islands of Crete, Rhodes and Corfu, state statistics have shown.
“We have seen no real movement on the commercial front yet,” says Williams. But as the summer comes to a close and losses are tallied, many small businesses will have no other choice than to dump losing operations for quick cash, he says.
Demand, supply and liquidity shocks to the world economy are already setting the stage for a deep global recession, worse than that resulted from the 2008 financial crisis, Greece’s foreign ministry has warned.
On Mallorca and the other Balearic Islands, the regulations for wearing face masks have been tightened. To prevent the spread of the coronavirus, mouth and nose protection must be worn from July 13th in all enclosed public spaces as well as outdoors, whenever it is possible to encounter other people. On the beach, at the pool and during sports, however, masks are still not mandatory.
Holiday flights within Europe are on the move again, with passengers sitting close together. According to an opinion poll by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), 62% of those questioned are afraid of being infected by passengers in the next seat. This was identified by IATA as the main reason for the decline in willingness to travel, which is now only 45%.
Starting from July 1, people from third countries with low infection rates may enter the EU again as regular travellers. These countries are Algeria, Australia, Canada, Georgia, Japan, Morocco, Montenegro, New Zealand, Rwanda, Serbia, South Korea, Thailand, Tunisia and Uruguay. China will only be considered if it also lifts its entry restrictions for Europeans.
A corona test center has been in operation at Frankfurt Airport since June 29, 2020. Here, passengers both departing and arriving can be tested to avoid quarantine. The standard procedure, in which the results are available as a download within six to eight hours, costs 59 euros. Around 300 tests can be performed per hour.
The Parisian landmark was closed for three months, and now visitors can go up it again. But only in limited numbers and on foot. There are 765 steps to the second floor viewing platform. Wearing a face mask is mandatory. The top of the Eiffel Tower will remain closed until further notice, as will the elevators. The number of tickets on sale is limited and they must be ordered online in advance.
The Alhambra Castle in Granada in southern Spain will open its doors to tourists again on June 17. Initially, only 4,250 visitors are to be admitted at the same time — only half as many as usual. In addition, masks are mandatory. The Alhambra is considered the most important testimony to Arab architecture in Europe and is a World Heritage site.
Entry regulations, masks, quarantine? The new EU overview website “reopen.europa.eu” provides information on the coronavirus rules of individual EU countries — and in 24 languages. Tourists can enter their destination country on the website and find out about regulations that apply there. So far, the site contains information on 27 EU countries and is to be continuously updated.
During the night of Monday (June 15), the federal police ended the border controls that had been introduced three months ago because of the coronavirus crisis. Complete freedom of travel between Germany and its neighboring countries is back in effect. At the same time, the Foreign Office’s travel warnings for 27 European countries ended.
The beaches of the world people dream of, like here on Ko Phi Phi in Thailand, will have to do without German tourists. The German government has extended the travel warning for tourists due to the coronavirus pandemic for more than 160 countries outside the EU until August 31. However, exceptions can be made for individual countries where the spread of the virus has been sufficiently contained.
6000 Germans will be the first foreign tourists to be allowed to travel to the Balearic Islands from Monday (June 15). According to Spanish media, the pilot project is intended to test the security precautions at airports and hotels before all of Spain opens its borders on July 1. Germany was chosen because the epidemiological situation there is similar to that on the Balearic Islands.
A new app is to help manage the flow of visitors to the Baltic Sea beaches, Schleswig-Holstein’s state premier Daniel Günther announced on June 7. Visitors use the app to register their desired time slot on the beach. If there is enough space available, they will be given an access authorization. The municipality of Scharbeutz developed the system, which could now also be used by other places.
Starting on Wednesday (June 3), tourists from Europe have been allowed to enter Italy again, the country that was one of the worst hit by the coronavirus pandemic worldwide. A two-week quarantine for travellers from Europe is no longer required. This should save the travel season. Italians will again be able to move freely throughout the country and travel to other regions.
The 14 cruise ships of the German Rostock-based shipping company Aida Cruises will remain in port until July 31. In many holiday destination countries the regulations for international tourism are still being discussed, the company announced. The Italian shipping company Costa is also extending the cruise suspension for its fleet until July 31.
Rome’s 2,000-year-old landmark can finally be visited again from June 1, and the Vatican Museums will also reopen on that day. Ancient Pompeii, south of Naples at the foot of Mount Vesuvius, is already welcoming visitors again, but only those from within the country. From June 3, however, foreign tourists will be able to return to Italy and visit the ancient sites.
From Monday (May 25), Greece’s islands will be accessible again by plane and ferry for domestic tourists. Taverns, bars and cafes are reopening nationwide. Ferries are to sell only 50% of their tickets, and taverns are only allowed to occupy half of their tables. The list of countries from which foreign tourists can enter Greece without a two-week quarantine will be announced at the end of May.
The Austrian government has announced that the border with Germany will be opened on June 15. Tourism in Austria has been effectively suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic. On May 29, hotels and other accommodation in Austria will be allowed to reopen. Austrian tourism is heavily dependent on guests from Germany.
Borkum, Juist (photo) and the other East Frisian islands are happy to be able to greet tourists again, even if it’s a limited surge of visitors. Since May 11, overnight stays in holiday apartments and camping sites throughout Lower Saxony have been allowed again. Holidaymakers must stay at least one week. However, day tourists and hotel overnight stays are still prohibited.
Holidaymakers might also be able to travel to the Balearic or Greek Islands in summer. “If there are very few new infections there and the medical care works, one could also think about a summer holiday in those places”, the government’s commissioner for tourism, Thomas Bareiss, told the Tagesspiegel newpaper. Long-distance travel, however, is likely to be cancelled this summer.
Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania is the first federal state to reopen to tourists from all over Germany: From May 25th they can again stay in hotels, guest houses and holiday homes. 60 percent of the bed capacity will be released for this purpose. This means that the tourist season can start with the Whitsun holidays in popular holiday regions like the Baltic Sea and the Mecklenburg Lake District.
Germany extended on Wednesday (April 29) its worldwide travel warning due to the coronavirus crisis to at least June 14. The Federal Foreign Office said that “severe and drastic restrictions in international air and travel traffic and worldwide entry restrictions, quarantine measures and restrictions on public life in many countries can still be expected.”
The Oktoberfest has been cancelled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Bavaria’s premier Markus Söder and Munich’s mayor Dieter Reiter announced the decision on Tuesday (April 21). ”It pains us, and it is a great pity”, said Söder. But in times of the coronavirus, the danger of infection at the folk festival, which attracts about six million visitors annually, would just be too great.
Hotels, cafes and souvenir shops are closed. It is unusually empty outside the Royal Palace in Palma (picture). The Easter season on the Spanish holiday island of Mallorca has been cancelled. The Majorcan hotel association now fears that due to the uncertain situation in the main markets of Germany and Great Britain, some hotels will remain closed even during the peak season.
By Sunday (April, 5) 205,000 travelers had been brought back to Germany, according to the federal government. Airplanes from Peru and Colombia were the most recent to take off. More than 40,000 Germans however are still stranded abroad. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Twitter. ”We will continue our efforts to find solutions for the travelers who have not yet been able to return.”
A light installation on the Matterhorn in Switzerland is giving a sign of solidarity and hope in the fight against the corona virus. Encouraging messages are also being projected on to many other tourist landmarks around the world. “Stay safe”, “Stay at home” could be see on Monday evening on the Great Pyramid in Giza near the Egyptian capital Cairo.
The German foreign ministry announced on Wednesday (March 25) that, together with tour operators, it had brought back more than 150,000 Germans from abroad. Tour operator TUI added that almost 95 percent of the tourists who were stranded because of the coronavirus pandemic are now back in Germany. They were mainly flown out from Egypt, Spain, Portugal and the Cape Verde Islands.
African countries have also ordered numerous measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. South Africa, for example, has banned access to the country for people coming from risk areas. Nigeria is monitoring the temperature of travelers at airports, ports and borders. Cameroon has closed its borders indefinitely.
The Australian government has imposed an indefinite ban on all foreign travel by its citizens. Prime Minister Scott Morrison also called on all Australians who are abroad to return home. A 14-day compulsory quarantine for all people entering the country has already been in place for some time. Here, too, it has become quiet in the cities.
The coronavirus crisis is impacting travelers and the tourism industry with full force. Several tour operators, including TUI, has cancelled trips, and some airlines are shutting down. Germany’s federal and state governments decided that overnight stays should only be used for “necessary and explicitly not for touristic purposes”. Germans are to “no longer take holiday trips at home and abroad”.
The EU has closed its entire external borders for 30 days as from Tuesday (March 17, 2020). “All travel between non-European countries and the European Union will be suspended for 30 days,” French President Macron said in a television address on Monday (March 16,2020) evening. The Schengen Area, which includes several non-EU countries, has also closed its external borders.
More and more countries are sealing their borders, and many flights are cancelled. With special flights Lufthansa and its subsidiary Eurowings want to bring up to 6,500 stranded holidaymakers from the Caribbean, the Canary Islands and on Mallorca back to Germany. In Morocco, the German government is assisting German tourists who are stranded there due to their return flights being cancelled.
On Monday morning (March 16, 2020), Germany introduced entry controls at the borders with the five neighboring countries: France, Denmark, Luxembourg, Austria and Switzerland. Border crossings will be reduced to what is strictly necessary. Goods can continue to pass through, including commuters, but not travelers without good reason. The duration of the measures remains open.
All ski areas in the Austrian provinces of Salzburg and Tyrol are ending the winter season early. Cable car operation will be discontinued as of Sunday (March 15, 2020). Hotels and accommodations will be closed from Monday. The provincial governments said that this should slow down the spread of the virus in the Alpine country. The two provinces account for most leading Austrian ski areas.
Due to the spread of the coronavirus, the USA is imposing a general 30-day travel ban on people from Europe. The entry ban comes into force on Friday (March 13, 2020) at midnight (local time). It does not apply to US citizens residing in Europe who have tested negative for the pathogen.
In order to reduce the spread, the border into neighboring Austria can only be crossed from Italy with a medical certificate. Slovenia has closed its border, and Albania has banned Italian air and ferry traffic. Many airlines have cancelled flights to Italy until at least 3 April. Germany, the UK, and Ireland tightened travel recommendations and called on their citizens to leave.
The Costa Crociere shipping company is cancelling all cruises in the Mediterranean for the time being. The cruises will be suspended until April 3, the Italian company announced on Tuesday (March 10). The measure affects thousands of passengers. Ships still operating in the Mediterranean will only call at Italian ports to let passengers disembark.
All ski facilities in Italy have been closed since Tuesday (March 10, 2020) due to the corona crisis. Prior to this, hoteliers and cable car operators in the South Tyrol region (photo) had already agreed to close their facilities. South Tyrol is particularly popular with winter sports tourists from Germany and Eastern Europe. The closure is effective until at least April 3.
The Czech Republic (picture) and Poland are carrying out checks at the border with Germany to protect against the spread of the coronavirus. Since Monday (March 9), travelers have faced random temperature checks. The German government has warned against travelling to risk areas. And air passengers from China, Japan, South Korea, Iran and Italy will have to expect controls when entering Germany.
On March 8 the Italian government issued an entry and exit ban for the more than 15 million inhabitants of the northern Italian regions, which include the key business center Milan and the tourist magnet of Venice (photo). Cultural, sporting and religious events are also banned for visitors. Museums, cinemas and theaters remain closed nationwide.