"Herd tourism" revived the pandemic - And yet, there was an alternative policy

Ω Dimitris Tziotis
Herd tourism revived the pandemic - And yet, there was an alternative policy, Dimitris Tziotis

Who is at fault? Greece re-entered the war of the pandemic, with the death toll now exceeding 1,000, while winter has not yet entered. The officials chose to change the successful strategy implemented in the first phase and to solemnly promote the beginning of the tourist season. Greece was advertised as a destination for everyone, without foreign visitors from countries with worse epidemiological characteristics, even being required to take tests.

From that moment on, one mistake followed another. Politics was imposed on science. The wrong strategy has led us to a vicious epidemiological and economic cycle. Unfortunately, they were wide of the mark. They did everything wrong. Mistakes that we will be paying for years. The "herd tourism" strategy proved to be a huge economic and humanitarian fiasco. The opening of tourism ended worse than the worst-case scenarios and Greece re-entered quarantine. While revenues from foreign tourism amount to 3.5 billion euros, the cost of lockdown for a single month is estimated at 5 billion. A total absurdity!

A mistake that costs dozens of lives every day. While the number of deaths from February to May 31 was 175, from June until today it is 825. Opening the borders to tourism, at a time when cases were setting a new world record every day, should not have been an across the board decision for all areas.

Greece was the only country that had the ability to openly target the tourism market, protecting most of the population from the pandemic and the economy from disaster. Because it had the geostrategic potential to achieve this. First of all, the lives of the people and the functioning of the economy had to be secured in the big cities and production centers, where 70% of the population lives, since the economy was not able to withstand a new lockdown.

The strategic advantage of Greece, which differentiates it from other countries, is that it has many islands with airports. The airports of the fifteen largest islands receive about 15 million visitors. Therefore, the destinations that should accept foreign tourism, with protocols and only from countries with similar epidemiological characteristics, are the islands that have airports. With this plan the detection of cases would be easier and more immediate, the spread of the virus more difficult, and the risk of quarantine reduced.

Coronavirus and security gap

Each destination should be promoted in a targeted way, to different audiences. Not en masse. The big bet of the tourist season was to offer safe experiences in safe destinations. The key to the success of the program was a sense of consumer security. This could only be offered by Greece. At the beginning of the tourist season, Greece was in the most advantageous position of all countries.

Everyone knew that coronavirus cases were almost extinct and competitive markets were infected. The trade strategy for the promotion of the Greek tourism economy during the health crisis should not have a security gap. We had the opportunity to set the terms, to shape the products and the prices. This opportunity cannot come again.

Those in charge had the time and money to maximize the economy's revenue and minimize the risk of a pandemic resurgence. They had three whole months at their disposal to satisfy the fundamental principles of the economy and to formulate - based on the conditions of the pandemic internationally - the strategy of the tourism industry with a single mission.

Understand the needs of the market and offer the products and services with the greatest demand: to design the safest vacation packages around the world. The situation was unique for the evolution of the operating model of the Greek tourism economy, the independence from tour operators, the improvement of the quality parameters of the tourist product, the extension of the duration of the tourist season, and the utilization of the industry to overcome the problems facing the economy. In the end, that alone did not happen.

Herd tourism

What was to be avoided was unfortunately done. While the pandemic was spreading rapidly, Greece opened its borders to mass tourism. On June 4, 2020, the new strategy, philosophy, and campaign for the 2020 tourist season entitled "Restart Greece" was presented, focusing on the promotion of the entire country as a health-safe destination. Greece made the biggest mistake it could make: it opened the country to "herd tourism".

It canceled the achievements of the first phase and the natural competitive advantages of the country with a single move. Then it opened the infectious "Pandora's box". If the security gap in strategy and trade policy was not filled, it was certain that the economy's revenues would be reduced dramatically. The generalized opening of the borders with the implementation of a mass sales policy to all the public, for all the destinations was catastrophic. It was the blunder of the century.

The minister in charge of "strong development", a slogan with which New Democracy won the elections, acknowledged the failure of government policy: "We also fell completely amiss in terms of the severity of the second wave. "The scenario we had believed, and I had believed, to be honest, was that when we opened in June due to high temperatures the next months until October would be relatively calm."

"And so our central philosophy, and the concentration we had in our minds, was how to open up tourism and the economy, thinking that we have 5 months to repair the financial loss of March and April. At this gathering we did not see that the virus mutated, we did not see it so fast and it eventually spread much faster than we expected. But that was the unprecedented thing that made the difference. If we had thought that the virus would not come in October but in July and August, we would have moved a little differently."

Communications illusion

With their festive appearances and the competition to capitalize on their political success, they set the worst possible example for society. The misconceptions cultivated in terms of lifestyle, overturned and replaced the need to continue the climate of collective responsibility, with a communication illusion that led to the practical abolition of protection measures. Everything that should not have been done was done.

How is it possible that they believed such a thing? With what data? Who designed this strategy and who made the decision? Who changed the successful strategy followed by the country in the first stage to solemnly promote the beginning of the tourist season, without even making the tests mandatory for foreign visitors? Who elaborated on the strategy of mass advertising of Greece? What were the views of medical scientists on the opening of the tourism market? Who suggested that the hotels of the big cities be opened first?

Who decided to open tourism in Athens and Thessaloniki, at a time when 80% of the income of the tourism economy comes from regional spots? Why were the country's major urban and productive centers not protected, as the economy was unable to withstand a new lockdown? Who gave the order to open the door to "herd tourism"? The misfortune is that they did not just make a mistake. They implemented this policy while knowing what was happening.

It was certain that past security could not guarantee future sales. Therefore, it no longer mattered whether Greece was safe before the borders were opened, but only if it could be ensured that it would remain clear of cases after the end of the restrictions and the arrival of tourists. In the economy, the conditions of the future are redeemed and not of the past. The cost of the wrong strategy applied is incalculable.

Coronavirus transmission

On May 20, 2020, the highest daily number of cases ever recorded in the world was recorded. In Brazil, Mexico, and Chile, although the weather was still hot, the cases were constantly increasing. Therefore, the summer excuse does not exist. From February to July 31, a total of 4,000 cases were recorded in Greece in 6 months. In June, 17 people died in Greece. In July, victims numbered 12. The daily increase in cases in May, June, and July was less than 1%. The percentage jumped from August 1st to 2.5%. Therefore, the data were known from that time on.

On June 28 we had 10 new cases and on August 1 110. By August 14, they had already reached 250. At this rate, 6,000 cases were recorded in August. Did they not understand, even then? The September cases were 278 per day and 8,362 in total. In September, the death toll reached 125. The death toll in September had already exceeded the first two weeks of October. Even then, did they not understand what they had done?

Who turned a blind eye to what happened on the feast of St. Demetrius in Thessaloniki? By the end of October, the daily number of cases had exceeded 2,000. The average daily number of deaths doubled every 10 days. As a result, only in the first 11 days of November, 284 of our fellow citizens lost their lives. Today, the number of cases exceeds 3,000 every day, the daily death toll is 50, and more than 1,000 people have lost their lives.

Winter has not come yet. The numbers are tragic and clear. The predominance of the modus operandi of an internal illusion led to the separation of Greece from the reality of the outside world. The communication effort to cover up the responsibilities continues. No one in charge has resigned yet. Greece re-entered the war. At a huge cost. Unnecessarily.

P.S. The strategy presented in this article was not developed a posteriori. Its key points were already formed on May 24, 2020.

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