Greeks look to tourism to bolster a crumbling economy

While this weekend’s election results may have temporarily eased fears that cash-starved Greece would exit the “eurozone” – and leave chaos in its wake – skittish travelers are still steering clear.

According to one Greek official, tourism income could plunge as much as 15% this year, while some European travel agencies report that bookings have slumped by nearly a third.

Enter, a new website aimed at recruiting volunteer travelers to “spread the good Greek word” through Twitter and other social media platforms. Selected by the national tourist office, the supporters will “monitor negative comments about Greece and respond in order to restore inaccuracies and misinformation, enhance the country’s image through positive mentions on Social Media and provide tips, and tourist oriented information.”

Among the potential tips: An estimated one-fifth of Greek tour operators and hotels have cut their prices in recent weeks, with one online site reporting that Athens hotel rates are 20% lower than they were the same time last year.

European guidebook author and tour leader Rick Steves, meanwhile, writes that “the main impact on travelers as Greece struggles through this period will be shorter hours of sights, intermittent strikes, and friends and loved ones back home wondering if Americans traveling in Greece are okay.” (Yes, Steves says, they’re more welcome than ever.)

But, adds Ronen Paldi of Y’alla Tours USA, American tourists face a more daunting challenge: the cost of getting there.

While Y’alla has discounted its 2012 Greek tours by 10% for bookings made by the end of July, airfares are still running about $1,500 to $1,800 per person between the East Coast and Athens, with most seats taken up by passengers headed for Mediterranean cruises.

“It’s a reality we can’t ignore,” says Paldi.

Readers, weigh in: Would you plan a trip to Greece this summer, or will high airfares and political uncertainty point you in a different direction?

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