ATHENS - Greece is having a better-than-expected summer tourism season and this year's revenues will help alleviate the impact of soaring energy prices on society, government spokesman Giannis Oikonomou said on Thursday.
Tourism accounts for a fifth of the Greek economy and one in five jobs. Government and industry officials had forecast this year's revenues from the vital sector could reach 80% to 90% of the record-high level seen in 2019. Some officials are now hopeful this year could beat that record.
"As we go through the first days of August, we can see that tourism traffic in our country is registering a strong momentum, with tourism flows exceeding even the most optimistic initial forecasts," Oikonomou told a regular briefing.
"Tourism revenues are enabling the state to further support society, which is being battered by crises in energy and elsewhere, and to give us valuable reserves ahead of the coming winter," he said.
Foreign arrivals at the country's airports reached 3,481,000 in June, up 193% from 1,190,000 arrivals in June of last year, and around the same level as in June 2019, Oikonomou said.
He said over 1 million visitors were expected this week in Athens, which has a population of about 4 million.
Greece, one of the most popular summer destinations in Europe, drew a record 32 million visitors in 2019, bringing in about 18 billion euros in revenues.
It suffered its worst year on record in 2020, when the COVID pandemic brought global travel to a standstill, but the sector has been recovering since.
Greece, like many European Union countries, is facing a sharp rise in power bills driven by sky-rocketing natural gas prices, as the war in Ukraine and European sanctions on Russia heighten concerns over the security of gas supplies.
The government has spent about 7 billion euros on power subsidies and other measures since September to help households, businesses and farmers pay their electricity and gas bills.
(Reporting by Karolina Tagaris, Edited by Michael Williams)