Travel agents say demand for Greece has not waned despite the recent wildfires as the tourist board plans immediate fam trips and joint promotions.
The Greek government evacuated around 19,000 people from Rhodes on July 22-23 and more than 2,000 in Corfu were moved to safety after wildfires intensified and temperatures reached record levels.
The largest-ever wildfire evacuation in the country’s history included thousands of Brits, forcing operators to cancel holidays and bring clients home.
Travel agents contacted customers in resort to offer support and amend imminent departures.
But the trade said the fires failed to dampen last-minute demand, with no sign of holidaymakers cancelling existing holidays to Greece. Only three out of 75 hotels in the area of Rhodes struck by wildfires have suffered from “partial damage”, according to Greek authorities.
“If anything, people planning to go to Rhodes still largely feel strongly about continuing with their trips to support the tourism economy,” said Barrhead Travel president Jacqueline Dobson, who added: “Time and time again, we see situations that shine a light on the benefits of booking with a reputable agent.”
Dawson & Sanderson said clients were still booking Greece for this summer. Business development director David Chambers said: “It’s not put people off.”
The agency chain kept in touch with clients in resort, some of whom were temporarily evacuated. “It’s been a difficult situation and constantly evolving but operators have dealt with it well and clients were really thankful we’d been in touch,” added regional manager Donna Jobling.
The Advantage Travel Partnership activated its 24/7 crisis team, created an information page on its intranet and used social media channels to get messages out quickly to agents.
Chief commercial officer Kelly Cookes reported a “slight drop” for Greece sales week on week but stressed volumes remained “decent” with clients in the main opting to travel to different parts of Greece “rather than avoiding it altogether”.
Independent Travel Experts managing director Gary Gillespie said the experience of the pandemic had given agents the “knowledge and skillset” to cope more confidently.
He added: “We’ve seen bookings to Greece for this summer continue to be made in the last week, including Rhodes and Corfu, so it doesn’t seem customers have been deterred.”
Similarly, Tony Mann, director of Idle Travel, said: ”I don’t think this has had any impact on bookings to the rest of Greece.”
Holidaysplease homeworker Ally Streeter said: “I kept clients due to travel in the loop. They arrived in Faliraki on July 28 and have been in touch to say thank you; they couldn’t fault anything.”
Miles Morgan Travel chairman Miles Morgan called national media reports “disproportionate”, adding: “Business continues to be good; the wildfires have not changed that. Most of Rhodes was unaffected.”
Deben Travel owner Lee Hunt said while some late bookers were choosing alternative destinations, sales remained strong. “Most seem more worried about the rain in the UK,” he said, adding: “Clients due to travel to Greece in a couple of weeks are also happy to proceed with their holiday.”
Bridget Keevil, managing director, Travel Stop, said agents had reassured worried clients. “You have to put the situation into perspective and give clients the facts; with most package holidays unaffected there is no reason not to go,” she said.
Tui resumed holidays to the north of Rhodes on July 30 but is offering clients due to travel to the south up to August 11 the option to rebook, amend or cancel with a full refund.
A spokeswoman said: “We’ll continue to assess and review locations and hotels affected to update our holiday programme.”
EasyJet holidays is contacting clients due to visit affected resorts up to August 10 to “discuss their options” while processing full refunds for cancelled holidays.
In addition it is offering “appropriate refunds” for returning clients towards another holiday. “We recognise it won’t have been the holiday our customers returning from Rhodes were hoping for,” said a spokesman.
Jet2holidays has put most of Rhodes back on sale but cancelled holidays to Gennadi and Kiotari up to and including August 13, with alternatives or full refunds offered.
The company said the number of clients rebooking holidays for this summer was “hugely encouraging”. “It is very clear how much people want to go on their well-deserved holidays,” said a spokeswoman.
Olympic Holidays said it was contacting clients and making amendments on a “case-by-case” basis.
A ‘state of emergency’ was lifted on August 1 as the Greek government revealed plans for fam trips for travel professionals and journalists to Rhodes this month and joint advertising promotions with travel partners spearheaded by the Greek National Tourism Organisation.