Fearing Capital Controls, Tourists Request Hotel Safes In Greece

On Friday, Austrian finance minister Hans Schelling said he assumed Austrian tourists vacationing in Greece would still be able to withdraw money from ATMs on Monday, but if not, Schelling indicated he would need to “discuss with leaders what positions have to be taken.” 

If that doesn’t inspire much confidence or perhaps makes you rethink any plans you might have had to join Yanis Varoufakis for a scenic Aegean sunset on the island of Aegina, you’re not alone. In fact, ATM operator Travelex has the following tip for anyone considering a trip to Greece: “Our advice is to exercise caution.”

In a sign of the times, Bloomberg reports that contentious negotiations between Greece and the troika combined with talk of looming capital controls have sparked renewed interest in a long-forgotten hotel perk. Here’s more:

Greek resort manager Kostas Dimitrokalis’s customers have started asking in recent weeks about an amenity often ignored in an age of online and credit card payments: reliable hotel safes to stash their money.

 

“Clients want to feel secure that if something happens, they’ll have funds,” Dimitrokalis, who heads the KD Hotels chain with six resorts on the island of Santorini, said in a telephone interview. “They’re coming with more cash.”

 

Helping travelers rest easy is something Dimitrokalis can handle. More troubling for him is what if they simply don’t come at all? While his hotels are full right now, Dimitrokalis says forward bookings are weak given the uncertainty surrounding the country’s financing.

 

That’s a sentiment echoed by Greece’s tourism industry as a whole. The Association of Greek 

Tourism Enterprises, which said last month that a strong start to the year had been trailing off, declined this week to discuss the possible impact of the government’s showdown with creditors because “the situation is just too fluid"..

 

Tourism generates 17 percent of gross domestic product in Greece, meaning any slowdown would hit the economy hard. Before the latest flareup in the funding dispute, the country was heading toward a record year for visitors, with the number of tourists surging 46 percent in the first quarter to 1.73 million, according to the latest data from the Bank of Greece.

 

TUI AG, Europe’s largest tour operator, said it’s only had sporadic inquiries from travelers about the impact a Greek exit from the euro would have on their holiday, while Thomas Cook Group Plc said it still sees strong demand for travel to the country. Both companies said trips wouldn’t be affected because they are selling package tours to customers.

 

The advice from experts for travelers heading to the country is to keep abreast of the latest developments and bring along enough cash to last 3-4 days just in case, said David Swann, a spokesman for Travelex.

This speaks to why a dramatic VAT hike has been a non-starter for Greece in its negotiations with creditors — Athens fears it will kill the "one industry that's doing well," to quote the country's tourism chief. In fact, the VAT issue is so sensitive that Yorgos Hatzimarkos, governor of vacation destinations such as Mykonos and Santorini, has threatened to hold a referendum on the issue. Now, the threat of a bank holiday and restricted access to deposits has given vacationers one more reason to avoid Greece.

In short, just about the last thing the country's tourism industry needs is capital controls. If the ATMs go dark next week, the flow of vactioners will likely dry up quickly, safes or no safes.