Corfu faces another bleak summer as British tourists stay away
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 is normally teeming with young British holidaymakers. Instead, we find a town that is closed and closed with only an occasional handyman getting ready for a summer season that is 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 filled with dirty water; the bars, clubs and restaurants were all silent, awaiting the return of the British mass tourism which makes the blood of this seaside resort.
The owner of a beachfront restaurant said she hoped to open on June 14, but it was still far from certain. Shrugging, she added: “Covid is killing our business.”
Normally half a million British visitors come to Corfu each year and the island’s tourist patrons 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 out of a population of 120,000. Along with this, vaccination rates are now above 35% and there are strict Covid safety plans for all holiday accommodation.
Spiros Rokas, of the Corfu Hotel Association, argued that a separate case 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 had 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 between £ 300 and £ 500 and is blamed for 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 travel to Greece, with the majority being disheartened by what is widely seen as conflicting and confusing advice from the UK government.
It’s legal to come here, but the government has said you shouldn’t be traveling on vacation to “orange” 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 considered the risk and decided it was worth taking it.
One family had a last-minute panic about testing their child, but generally the restrictions were known and visitors agreed that they would have to self-isolate for 10 days 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 in 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 houses were occupied.
Eleni Sarakinou showed us the strict protocols they must follow by Greek law, including weekly testing of all their staff and thorough disinfection of the villas.
She believed the reluctance to travel was more related to their older clients not wanting to risk the air flight than to fear of staying at properties once they arrived in Corfu.
There are similar guarantees against Covid at hotels on the island.
At 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.
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 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 its loyal customers opt to abide by government travel advice on souvlaki and sunshine.