Tour Companies Struggle To Book Greece Trips

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The economic turmoil in Greece is a concern for many U.S.-based travel companies that offer tours to some of the Mediterranean's most revered destinations. It's not yet clear how much of an impact all of the negative publicity will have on bookings for the usually busy summer and autumn seasons.


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The economic turmoil in Greece is causing concern among many U.S.-based travel companies, in particular those that specialize in package tours to some of the Mediterranean's most revered destinations. Kirk Siegler of member station KUNC has that story.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: Each year, Jo Briech, her husband and their young son take one vacation abroad after tax season. They're accountants in Dallas.

JO BRIECH: Greece is our absolute favorite country. We have been three times before - 2006, 2009 and 2011.

SIEGLER: But at the last minute this year, they booked Italy instead.

BRIECH: With the instability in Greece, we were very concerned about arriving and having large swaths of Athens shut down by protests, possibly violent.

LITSA MONSELL: That's almost not a realistic fear.

SIEGLER: Litsa Monsell works for an agency called Slip Aweigh Travel. She ran a restaurant in Greece for 12 years, and she says she fields calls from people like Jo Briech every day.

MONSELL: It's in the mainland Athens where I'll tell people, instead of staying right on Constitution Square or by the university, stay by the Acropolis.

SIEGLER: Monsell says most people booking trips only stop briefly in Athens, anyway, before heading off to one of the country's famous islands.

MONSELL: It is becoming harder for them, the Greeks, but as a tourist, you wouldn't even see any of that. You know, the chances of being thrown into a, quote, unquote, "dangerous situation" is maybe 5 percent, if that.

SIEGLER: But like many Greek-Americans, she's glued to the events unfolding in the country.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: ...but the protest outside parliament is turning very ugly now. Within the last half hour or so, riot police have unleashed volleys of tear gas into the crowds who are fighting back...

SIEGLER: The frequent news footage of protesters clashing with police and shutting down major thoroughfares hasn't yet led to a drop in bookings at Monsell's agency, but it has at others.


SIEGLER: Paul Samaras runs Apostolos Greek Tours here in Denver.

PAUL SAMARAS: This year, it's a struggle.

SIEGLER: Over lunch in a popular Greek restaurant called Pete's, he says his company caters to American runners who travel to Greece in the fall to run the famous Athens Marathon. Samaras says, by now, he's usually sold out. But so far this year, only 30 people have booked.

SAMARAS: I personally have reduced prices, and I'm sure others are doing the same thing. But the challenge is that the local suppliers, food and all the other expenses are still just as expensive or higher.

SIEGLER: Samaras says he's frustrated because he says what's going on in his native country is no different than what's taking place in Italy or Spain.

SAMARAS: Unfortunately, the news media can only capture a very small glimpse of the demonstrations in Athens. Those demonstrations happen in about a five-block area.

SIEGLER: Earlier this year, the State Department posted bulletins warning American travelers of potentially violent demonstrations in Greece. But currently, the government is only advising tourists to be ready for public transit shutdowns or other inconveniences as a result of protests.

PAMELA COLORADO: Why would I be afraid to go to Greece?

SIEGLER: The unrest didn't stop Pamela Colorado of Hawaii from booking a holiday on the Greek island of Santorini in July. She has faith that Greece is safe for travelers.

COLORADO: Greece is one of the foundations of democracy. I say go to Greece.

SIEGLER: Greek islands, including Santorini, saw banner tourism last year despite the financial crisis. Tourism officials credit that to the unrest in Egypt. For NPR News, I'm Kirk Siegler in Denver.

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