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Travel deals: Discounts on cruises, packages

A rundown on some travel deals: — Grand Circle’s Romance of the Rhine Mosel cruise has been reduced by $2,700 per couple for select departures through November. The 14-night cruise, which travels between Antwerp, Belgium, and Basel, Switzerland, now starts at $2,045 per person double, plus $165 port charges. Book by July 9; request promo code DEAL 300. Price includes wine with dinner, a dozen tours and wireless Internet on the ship. Info: 800-248-3737, www.gct.com.

— Central Holidays has savings of up to $400 on its Greece and Turkey land and cruise packages. For example, save more than $300 per person on the 11-day Istanbul and the Aegean trip, which now costs from $832 per person double, plus $63 fuel charges and $262 port tax. Price includes a cabin aboard the Louis Cristal, which sails from Istanbul to Izmir, Turkey, and Greece’s Patmos, Mykonos, Rhodes, Crete, Santorini and Athens; two nights’ accommodations in Istanbul, with daily buffet breakfast; and all transfers per itinerary. Book by July 27; depart July to November. Info: 800-935-5000, www.centralholidays.com.

— Tauck is dropping the single supplement for Category 1 cabins on its 2013 European river cruises. For solo cruisers, average savings on the lower-level cabins with two small windows is more than $2,400 — and up to $4,676 (on the 24-day trans-European cruise). In addition, singles can save $1,000 on Category 3 cabins (higher level, floor-to-ceiling windows, French balcony) on select sailings of eight European river cruise itineraries. For example, the 12-day Blue Danube cruise, which travels between Prague and Budapest, starts at $4,490 (single or per person double) for Category 1. The $1,000 savings applies to the May 9 and 23, June 27, July 11 and Oct. 24 departures; prices vary by departure, but the lowest Category 3 rate for singles is from $6,476. Info: 800-468-2825, www.tauck.com.

— Lufthansa has sale fares from New York to Berlin. Published sale fare is $667 round trip, including tax, but dips to as low as $618 on some dates in November and December. Book by July 11. Depart Aug. 26 through Dec. 12, and return Sept. 2 through Jan. 12; some dates, especially in August and September, are sold out. Requirements include minimum Saturday-night stay. Air Berlin, which started nonstop service between JFK and Berlin last year, is offering similar fares. Info: 800-645-3880, www.lufthansa.com.

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Deals sell out and availability is not guaranteed. Restrictions such as blackout dates and advance purchase may apply.


ECB warns Greece as ministers plan softer bailout bid


ATHENS |
Mon Jul 2, 2012 10:53am EDT

ATHENS (Reuters) – The European Central Bank told Greece on Monday not to waste time trying to renegotiate its international bailout as government ministers hashed out a plan for easing its punishing terms before a review by the country’s lenders.

Echoing Greece’s euro zone partners, ECB policymaker Joerg Asmussen signalled that Prime Minister Antonis Samaras was unlikely to win much leeway in imposing austerity measures demanded by the European Union and IMF under its bailout programme.

“The first priority for the new Greek government has to be getting the programme back on track,” Asmussen, an ECB Executive Board member, said in a speech in Athens. “The new government should not lose precious time looking to avoid or loosen the programme.”

Facing huge public pressure, Samaras wants more time to meet targets and to dilute the austerity measures that have helped condemn Greece to a fifth year of recession.

Ministers from the conservative-led coalition were huddled in talks on Monday to work out the plan before “troika” inspectors from the EU, ECB and IMF begin their review of Greece’s faltering progress in fiscal adjustment and reforms.

Greek and troika sources said the inspectors would start their work on Wednesday, with mission chiefs also visiting to meet the new government. The process could take weeks.

“We haven’t seen any numbers for some time now. We need at least a week to catch up,” a troika official told Reuters.

Samaras’s election victory on June 17 over a radical leftist bloc committed to tearing up the bailout deal removed the immediate threat of Greece crashing out of the euro.

But his uneasy coalition of right and left was forged on a promise to ease the burden on a society struggling with the tax hikes, job losses and wage cuts imposed as the price of two multi-billion-euro bailouts since 2010.

Samaras, 61, says the harsh austerity is only choking the Greek economy and delaying recovery.

The euro zone says the programme can be adjusted to take account of weeks of political paralysis during elections in May and June and the deeper than expected recession. However, lenders led by Germany, the biggest contributor to the bailout, have ruled out any radical changes.

Opposition leader Alexis Tsipras, whose left-wing Syriza bloc surged into second place in the June election on a promise to reject the bailout, said Greece was “just chasing its tail”.

“Continuing the bailout’s austerity will push our country to voluntarily withdraw from the euro zone,” he told the Economist Conference where Asmussen spoke. “The most important parts of society, the young scientists, the pioneers of Greece’s future, are being pushed to the margins of society and fleeing abroad.”

MANUFACTURING SLUMP

Tsipras, 37, said Greece should demand that the concessions granted to Spain at last week’s EU summit also be applied to Greece, particularly the direct recapitalisation of banks from EU rescue funds. In Greece’s case, direct recapitalisation would cut about 50 billion euros ($64 billion) from the national debt.

But in a newspaper interview on Sunday, Asmussen said there should be no illusion that the summit’s conclusions would change things for Greece. He cautioned on Monday that granting the country more time would only cost more money.

“Delaying adjustment is risky,” he said. “And it is also not free.” Asmussen, a former adviser to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, later met Greece’s outgoing and incoming finance ministers, saying afterwards only that they had a “good first meeting”.

Cabinet ministers gathered at the finance ministry to prepare for the troika visit and were expected to meet Samaras, who is recovering from eye surgery, later in the day.

There was some relief when the government received the remaining 1 billion euro portion of its latest bailout tranche worth 5.2 billion euros, a senior government official said.

Greece’s state coffers are almost on empty. Underscoring the scale of the problem, a survey released on Monday showed a manufacturing slump worsened in June between the two elections, leading to sharp drops in production and employment.

Markit’s manufacturing purchasing managers’ Index (PMI) for Greece dropped to 40.1 points last month from 43.1 in May, its weakest reading since February’s record low of 37.7 points and well below the 50 mark that divides growth from contraction.

“Whether the formation of the new coalition government helps to improve confidence remains to be seen,” said Markit senior economic Paul Smith. “There can be no doubting that fundamental problems facing manufacturers – and for that matter the Greek economy as a whole – are inevitably going to take a long time to solve.”

Looking to cut its losses, France’s Credit Agricole was in talks with at least one bank to sell all or part of its struggling Greek unit Emporiki Bank. Greece’s biggest bank, National Bank, said in a statement to the stock exchange that it was in talks over a “strategic alliance” regarding Emporiki.

A Credit Agricole spokeswoman declined to comment, but a Paris-based source familiar with the matter said there were a number of suitors for Emporiki, which has cost Credit Agricole billions of euros in capital in recent years.

($1 = 0.7880 euros)

(Additional reporting by Dina Kyriakidou, Deepa Babington and Renee Maltezou in Athens, Christian Plumb and Lionel Laurent in Paris; Writing by Matt Robinson; editing by David Stamp)


Greek tourism battered by political crisis, fear


KILLINI, Greece |
Thu Jun 7, 2012 10:37am BST

KILLINI, Greece (Reuters) – When he took a job as the manager of one of Greece’s biggest resorts overlooking a sandy beach near Ancient Olympia, the cradle of the Olympic Games, Michalis Minadakis thought he had the goose that laid the golden egg.

But seven years later, his dream of a bonanza with sun-seeking tourists is in ruins as the country’s debt crisis has deepened, sparking talk of a Greek exit from the euro and social unrest that has begun to scare off visitors.

“Germans have been good friends of Greek tourism but they’re afraid to come over now,” said Minadakis, his eyes fixed on empty sunbeds around a pool at his Olympia Riviera Resort that boasts four hotels and a beach that is 1.2 miles long (2km).

“This will be a very tough year. The hurdles we are facing are huge,” he said, adding that he had suffered a 25 percent drop in bookings this year and received 50 percent fewer visitors from Germany, Greece’s biggest tourist market.

Tourism, which slumped by 25 percent in 2009-2010 only to rebound last year, is crucial to Greece’s economy, accounting for 15 percent of its output and one in five jobs in a country where unemployment has hit a record high of 21 percent.

Greece’s sandy resorts, azure waters and ancient temples remain popular, but will not, it seems, be enough to pull it out of a fifth year of recession.

Andreas Andreadis, the head of Greece’s tourism enterprises association (SETE), said he feared revenues would plunge this year. “We will see a considerable drop,” he told Reuters. “A negative number, something like 10-15 percent.”

The pain is already being felt – tourist receipts for the first quarter tumbled by 15.1 percent to 396.3 million euros from 466.7 million euros, the Bank of Greece said.

The Greek tourism minister held a brainstorming session with industry officials last week to try to draw up an anti-crisis plan and later said the state needed to spend more on advertising to attract last-minute bookings.

Separately, Greek and European tourist operators are mounting their own publicity and price-cutting campaigns.

“We are trying to save what can be saved,” said Yannis Retsos, head of the hoteliers’ association. “Anything close to a 10 percent revenue drop would be a success.”

POLITICAL TURMOIL

Last month’s inconclusive parliamentary election, which left the country without a government and saw a party intent on renegotiating an international bailout that has kept the country afloat come second, increased the uncertainty.

Days after the election, reservations slumped by 50 percent. A repeat election on June 17 that may determine Greece’s future in the euro – during what is the first month of the lucrative tourist season – has hoteliers and travel agents on edge.

Retsos said the uncertainty was damaging tourism and that the country needed a stable government to restore confidence.

The battle now was to contain losses, he added.

“We’ve already lost half of the season and are fighting for July, August and September,” he said.

International media reports reflecting growing resentment against Germany among ordinary people, political pundits and the popular press, coupled with warnings that anti-austerity strikes and protests could disrupt people’s holidays, are not helping.

“I was a bit anxious coming here because of what the media reported about Greeks hating Germans,” said Britta Missler, a German tourist. “When I go back to Germany I’ll tell everybody there is no need to worry.”

About 2.2 million Germans visited Greece last year, but many now appear to be plumping for other destinations such as Spain or Turkey. Athens, where about a dozen hotels have shut down, and other big cities have been hardest hit.

“The German-Greek relation problem is huge. Only time can fix what’s broken,” said Retsos.

Last month, TUI Germany advised Greece-bound customers to take more cash in euros after its travel agents reported a surge in questions from customers about what would happen if Greece were to exit the euro and reintroduce the drachma.

“My friends said I’m crazy to come to Greece,” said 35-year old Robert Leoniuk from Poland, who was staying at the Olympia Riviera resort with his wife and three-year-old son, and said he had taken a wad of euros with him just in case.

FIGHT BACK

Only last year, Greece was celebrating a record 16.5 million tourists – after two difficult years – as cheaper fares and upheaval in Egypt and Tunisia made it a popular destination.

That had raised hopes that the sector was on the road to recovery and might even be able to save the sickly economy.

A rise in visitors from Eastern Europe, Russia and Israel may help make up for the loss of tourists from Germany and Britain, but industry officials fear it will not be enough.

Domestic tourism – which accounts for up to 25 percent of total tourism revenues – is unlikely to save the day. Greeks’ incomes are being severely squeezed as they reel from salary and pension cuts, layoffs and tax rises,

In the heart of Monemvasia, a town on the southeastern Peloponnese peninsula with a medieval fortress and Venetian style homes, Anastassia Livieratou keeps the family tradition of making silver jewellery inspired by local history and life alive.

“We have no Greek clients anymore. They cannot afford to buy anything,” said Livieratou gazing at a deserted street through the window of her empty shop. “It’s a lost year for us.”

(Writing by Renee Maltezou; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Mark Heinrich)