With the peak tourism season setting in, Greece is bracing for a record number of arrivals and is welcoming back Chinese tourists. The warm feelings follow a period of discontent due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions placed on travelers from China for the past three years, and other issues.

On the cobblestone streets of Athens, tavern owner Spiros Bairaktaris spreads his arms wide open, welcoming news of what is already called the Chinese return.

He says, “We await them with great love, from the bottom of our hearts. We want to host them, to feed them, to offer all our services.”

All restaurants here, he says, are aching for their return.

While groups of Chinese travelers are just starting to trickle in, Greece expects the number to surge through the summer, exceeding the roughly 200,000 who visited the country ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In recent months, a flurry of meetings between Greek and Chinese officials has helped ease visa restrictions. Direct flights have resumed, but also increased in number and locations in a strategy to boost inflows of travelers from China,

Tourism accounts for more than a quarter of Greece’s economic earnings. And with forecasts predicting more than 30 million travelers this summer, business and officials here say that the Chinese return will help stoke the engines of this country’s lackluster economy after a decade-long recession and the pandemic.

“In the past, we have seen that average spending from our friends from China was even double [that of] European travelers to Greece,” said Sofia Zacharaki, the deputy tourism minister.

Such sweeping feelings of welcome and enthusiasm are new.

Just five years ago and ahead of the pandemic, many businesses and locals said they upset with what they called an over-saturation of Chinese travelers. Greeks pointed to what they say was an over-commercialization of mass Chinese weddings against iconic sunsets on popular islands like Santorini.

They also say that on Santorini and other islands, law enforcement, garbage collection and other services were overstretched… due to the influx of mainly Chinese visitors. Concerns were also raised about reckless construction as the host islands sought to accommodate the visitors.

And many locals began fearing that Chinese and other visitors were posing threats to social cohesion.

Whether such deep-rooted concerns will creep up again remains unclear.

For now, though, restaurant menus are being translated into Mandarin, shops are being festooned with Chinese flags and hotel employees, are learning Mandarin.



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