ITV News correspondent Juliet Bremner on the challenges Corfu tourism industry faces
Walk along the main street of Kavos on the Greek the island of Corfu is a surreal experience. It’s the first week of June and this seaside resort on the southern tip of the island would normally be teeming with young British holidaymakers. Instead, we find a gated and gated town with only an occasional handyman getting ready for a summer season that’s still on hold.
We’re heading for the beach, but it’s the same weird story there: not a soul to see. The swimming pools of many hotels and apartments are full of dirty water; bars, clubs and restaurants were silent, awaiting the return of the British mass tourism which brings this seaside resort to life.
Drone footage shows empty lounge chairs on Corfu’s pristine beaches as the pandemic threatens to spoil another season for the island so dependent on tourists.
The owner of a beachfront restaurant said she hoped to open on June 14 but it was still far from certain. Shrugging her shoulders, she added: “Covid is killing our business.”
Normally half a million British visitors come to Corfu every year and the island’s tourist bosses are desperate to change their status from ‘amber’ to ‘green’. They are convinced that the larger Ionian island is safe and ready.
The local Covid rate last week averaged 15 infections per day among a population of 120,000. Coupled with this, vaccination rates are now above 35% and there are strict Covid safety plans for all holiday accommodation.
Spiros Rokas of the Hoteliers Association of Corfu argued that a separate dossier should be presented for the Greek islands, which have far lower rates than the mainland. He is particularly frustrated with the testing regime which currently means all visitors to the UK must show they have received both vaccines or have a negative PCR test. However, UK government rules state that travelers must also undergo another PCR test before returning home and two more once back in Britain. It can cost anywhere from Â£ 300 to Â£ 500 and is accused of keeping most tourists away. Mr Rokas and other tourist chefs here on the island want it replaced with cheaper and simpler lateral flow tests.
A few visitors from the UK come to Corfu, but only a fraction of those who would usually head to Greece, the majority deterred by what is widely seen as conflicting and confusing advice from the UK government.
It is legal to come here, but the government has said that you should not travel on vacation to “amber” countries.
At Corfu Airport on the Bank Holiday Friday in May, we discovered a steady trickle of travelers determined to come despite the advice and the cost.
Everyone we spoke to understood the rules and said they took the risk into account and decided it was worth taking it.
One family had a last-minute panic about testing their child, but in general the restrictions were known and visitors agreed to have to self-isolate for 10 days at home upon their return.
When we spoke to one of the largest villa companies on the island, it became clear that many others weren’t willing to take the risk.
CV Villas has 120 properties on Corfu and looked set for a very good season until Corfu was put on the ‘amber’ list. Their reservations for May and early June evaporated, and the day we spoke to their manager, no homes were occupied.
Eleni Sarakinou showed us the strict protocols they must follow by Greek law, including weekly testing of all their staff and full disinfection of the villas.
She believed the reluctance to travel had more to do with their older clients not wanting to risk the air flight than for fear of staying at the properties once they got to Corfu.
There are similar guarantees against Covid at hotels on the island.
During meals around a shared buffet like breakfast, everyone should wear a mask and plastic gloves before helping themselves to eat. Chairs and tables are sprayed with disinfectant between guests, and rooms are only cleaned if visitors wish.
“My kids deserve a vacation” – there was a steady stream of UK travelers determined to come despite advice and cost
All of the vacationers we spoke to were delighted they made the decision to come.
A couple, Mike Pearce and Lesley Scott, said they originally booked for a week but were extended to 10 days and it was “the perfect break”.
But unless the rules change soon, Corfu fears it will lose another summer of essential business as their loyal customers opt to abide by the government’s travel advice on souvlaki and the sun.