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Tourists braced for disruption as Greece goes on general strike

Tourists visiting Greece are braced for 48 hours of disruption as the country goes on general strike against unpopular austerity measures.

The walk-out is expected to affect dozens of international flights as air traffic controllers called two work stoppages: from 8am to noon on Tuesday and from 6pm to 10pm on Wednesday.

Those travelling by sea also faced disruption. At the main port of Piraeus, protesting dockworkers formed a blockade on Tuesday morning, leaving hundreds of tourists unable to board ferries to the Aegean islands.

All public transport was to halt for two days except the Athens subway which workers decided to keep running so that protesters could travel to anti-austerity rallies in the capital. But bus drivers said they would run a limited service for people participating in or attending the Special Olympics which Athens is hosting this year.

The strike also hampered public services, leaving hospitals operating at emergency staffing levels and closing schools, government offices and courts.


The two-day walk-out has been organized by the Greece’s two main labour unions. It is the second walkout this month and the fourth in a year that has seen public outrage with the Socialist government’s relentless austerity drive.

It comes as parliament votes on the current austerity measures that are considered critical for Greece to obtain the necessary international financial support.

If parliament does not approve the measures, including wage cuts, tax increases and the privatization of 50 billion euros, or about $71 billion, in state assets, the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund have said they will not release $17 billion that Greece needs to pay its expenses through the summer.

Without the payment, the country will default, undermining the European common currency and potentially creating market turmoil over the exposure of banks that hold the debt of Greece.

Despite the problems, Greece is expecting a bumper year for tourism with visitors this summer due to cheap prices. Arrivals are expected to soar 10 percent, as tourists who might have headed to north Africa have instead opted for the Greek islands.

Officials are hoping the increase in the number of visitors will go some way to helping the country out of its financial hole.

Tourism accounts for one in five jobs and contributes almost 18 percent of GDP, and the government has given the sector special emphasis in the hope that it will help kickstart the economy.

Last month, the administration reduced the price of ferry tickets by abolishing levies. The move followed the waiving of landing and taking-off fees at airports outside Athens, which has resulted in a reduction in the cost of air travel. A similar decision to bring down VAT from 11% to 6.5 % on tourist accommodation has ensured the country has become more competitive.

Hotels beyond the capital have been deluged with bookings as tourists have scrambled to snap up double rooms going for as little as €13 on the island of Corfu and €36 on Mykonos.

The lifting of visa restrictions for non-EU citizens from Turkey, China and India has also added to the increase. Russian visitors are expected to exceed 500,000 this year, an increase of 50% over 2010.

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