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The Coronavirus Is Hurting Travel, So Greece Has Begun Offering Virtual Tourism

The Acropolis is one of Greece's most popular tourist attractions. More than 32 million foreign tourists visited Greece last year.
Yorgos Karahalis
The Acropolis is one of Greece's most popular tourist attractions. More than 32 million foreign tourists visited Greece last year.

The coronavirus pandemic has all but shuttered global tourism. As quarantines and social distancing continue in countries around the world for the foreseeable future, airlines are warning of bankruptcy, hotels are closed, cruise ships are docked and tour buses are idle.

Greece is among some countries that have begun offering interactive websites to keep their tourism brands afloat — "until we can all be together in person again," Dimitris Fragakis, secretary-general of the Greek National Tourism Organization, said in a statement on Thursday.

Greece's tourism authorities, in cooperation with Google, launched the greecefromhome.com site this week.

"You're at home," the website says, "but that doesn't mean your mind can't travel... here's your chance to experience it all. The archaeological sites and museums, the glorious sea, the mountains and lakes, the villages and traditions, even gastro and walking tours — exploring, sailing, hiking, rafting, tasting, discovering... all from the safety of your home."

Visitors can take a virtual tour of Corfu, peer at archaeological sites, fly over island beaches, listen to Greek music and learn about Greek food. On an associated YouTube channel, national opera singers perform from home and a Greek wine expert shares tips.

The virtual visits won't bring in tourism revenue, but until real visits become possible again, it's a way to "keep in touch with our audience, to show them our country and everything Greece embodies in ideas, values, experiences," Tourism Minister Haris Theocharis said in a statement on Thursday.

Before the coronavirus changed everything, Greece was finally turning a corner after suffering for years during an economic depression that shut the country out of global markets and shot unemployment as high as 27%.

Greece earned more than $19 billion from tourism last year, and tourism accounts for about 20% of the country's GDP. The country welcomed more than 32 million foreign tourists in 2019.

The pandemic forced most Greek hotels to close last month. On Friday, the finance minister said he expects the Greek economy to shrink by between 3% and 4% this year.

COVID-19 has put more 75 million tourism-related jobs at "immediate risk" worldwide, the World Travel and Tourism Council, an industry group, noted in a plea for help to G-20 leaders last month.

Up to now, revenue from global tourism had grown for 10 consecutive years, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization. To help the industry, it is offering to support entrepreneurs in what it calls a "Healing Solutions for Tourism Challenge," with a focus on crisis management, sanitizing methods — and digital tourism.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Joanna Kakissis is a foreign correspondent based in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she reports poignant stories of a conflict that has upended millions of lives, affected global energy and food supplies and pitted NATO against Russia.