The prospects of Greek tourism before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic were very positive and the Greek economy expected significant contribution from this sector. However, Greek tourism, as well as European and international tourism, suffered great losses, after the extraordinary conditions which came as a result of the ban in cross-border travel, restrictions and the pandemic. Despite the restrictions and bans to travel and tourism activities which affected international travel receipts, Greece retains its position among the most popular Mediterranean destinations. Nevertheless, international travel receipts remained low due to the continuing difficulties transnational mobility because of the pandemic.
According to the official data presented by the Bank of Greece, in 2020 the non-resident travel receipts amounted to 4.3 billion euros, compared to 18.2 billion euros in 2019 and thus, did not exceed 24% of the corresponding figures of 2019. Arrivals of non-resident tourists in 2020 was reduced by 76.5% compared to 2019. The incoming travel traffic from EU countries decreased less (73.6%) than the incoming travel traffic from non-EU countries (81%). Respectively, travel receipts from the EU decreased less (71%) than travel receipts from non-EU countries (82%). What we can also observe is that in the second quarter of 2020, the arrivals and travel receipts of non-residents were almost zero, while in the third quarter of 2020, which -in normal conditions- is the peak of the tourist season, the arrivals and travel receipts of non-residents were reduced by 77,4% and 74% respectively compared to the same period of 2019.
According to the final data of January-September 2020 from a Border Survey conducted by the Bank of Greece, in the region of Attica (which collected 27% of receipts and 25% of visits in the period between January-September 2020), there was the smallest loss of visits and travel receipts, 61.9% and 63.3% respectively, while in the insular Regions of Crete – Ionian Islands and South Aegean (including Cyclades and Dodecanese islands), which are popular tourist destinations, the total loss raised up to 82% and 81.8%, respectively.
For the year 2021, Greek tourism is projected to perform better than in 2020, with critical parameters being the vaccination data by country, the epidemiological data and the possible tightening of restrictive measures in the tourist markets of Greece. Hoping not to have any further unpleasant surprises from the epidemiological front, it is estimated that having a continuous vaccination flow, the restrictive measures and tests by April 2021, all the above will be crucial parameters and will contribute to the partial recovery of the demand for travel services.
Greece has a unique potential as a health or medical tourism destination being an alternative form of tourism. Health tourism can bring significant growth and economic prosperity and is evolving rapidly and continuously worldwide. In Greece, health tourism can be developed around the fields of orthopedic treatment and rehabilitation, dialysis, ophthalmology, plastic / cosmetic surgery, dentistry, in vitro and assisted fertilization, transplants and cardiac surgery, cardiac surgery. Other competitors, which constitute medical tourism destinations are Singapore, India, Brazil, Thailand, Mexico, Costa Rica, Hungary, Turkey and Israel. Target markets for Greece should be Central and Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Russia, as well as countries in the Middle East and North Africa.
According to a recent study, the global health tourism market in 2020 is estimated at $ 10.1 billion and there are estimates for an expected growth rate of over 12.1% on an annual basis between 2021 and 2027. These figures could lead to a surge in global health tourism market, as more and more people seek new treatments, lower cost or better quality of care in another country. In conclusion, the creation of a strong brand name and reputation for the Greek market, as an attractive medical tourism destination, is crucial for the success of such a strategy. Since health tourism has given the opportunity to countries of completely different profiles to develop into important medical destinations, it is also feasible for Greece to acquire that share in the global market, a share which belongs to Greece and is well deserved.