Not for the Faint-of-Heart Tourist

It’s that time of year now for making travel-plans, and so we see this from Vox’s Matt Yglesias:

Ah, but click through to actually read the article! (You do take care to do that every time, right?) Surveying the arguments actually presented there for going to Greece now, what one comes up with is: 1) Greece is cheap; 2) It’s the “right thing to do”; and 3) Greece is pretty safe (here citing figures from, of course, some past, more “normal” period that did not feature closed banks and a full-blown financial crisis).

Actually, Yglesias’ piece inadvertently presents some good arguments why not to go just now. “Bring cash to Greece” warns one of his section-headlines, and rightly so. First of all, more and more places won’t want you to pay with plastic, because current restrictions mean they can’t get quick access to that money. And while it may be true that cash-withdrawals for those using foreign credit- or debitcards are not limited, it’s likely going to be a struggle to find an ATM that has not run out of money.

When you do find one, do not assume that the Greeks’ supposed love for tourists extends to allowing them to cut in front of the long lines in front of those ATMs – so that it may well be empty by the time it is your turn. And don’t think that your efforts towards making it emptier by extracting your foreigner’s amount will be appreciated, either. Then consider the happy hunting-grounds for muggers made possible by the knowledge that everyone is carrying around so much cash, for burglars and room-thieves knowing that everyone has to store all that cash somewhere.

Yglesias’ former employer, the Washington Post, yesterday featured a story (really from the AP) about how “tourists [are] still enjoying Greece,” but, again, you need to investigate it further, if perhaps no further than the lead paragraph:

Add riot police, shuttered banks, and lines at cash machines and the picture clouds.

Now, the piece does feature a couple quotes from visiting tourists who maintain that they are having fun and encountering no problems, but it is likely those were merely lucky enough to show up just as the crisis there was beginning. Consider instead these dire observations in the NYT from a former Greek Finance Minister:

Today Greece faces calamity. Banks have been closed for more than a week and the economy is deteriorating at an accelerating rate. Citizens and companies can’t easily carry on with their normal lives; the tourism industry is plagued by cancellations; companies are postponing paying their workers.

“[T]ourism industry is plagued by cancellations”: yes, mostly by foreigners who, for now, don’t want any part of what is going on there. But this is also cancellations coming from Greek companies themselves: hotel rooms not available because those who are supposed to clean and service them cannot be paid, or which are not accessible on some sparkling Greek island because there is no money to pay for fuel for the ferry any more, etc. Restaurants which close because there’s no money to buy new supplies of food; grocery stores with empty shelves because they similarly cannot be resupplied – and because locals realized early that they would not be able to be resupplied and grabbed the stock for themselves.

At least there is this (but how long does the power hold out?):

And if all of that is not enough . . . Greece remains a favorite (intermediate) destination for the waves of immigrants from destitute lands in Africa and the Middle East coming to Europe in search of some better life. In particular, if the island of Lesbos (way closer to Turkey than to the Greek mainland) is your favorite Greek summering-spot, there’s a full-blown crisis of a different sort unfolding there in the shape of an endless supply of refugee boats arriving. The NYT gives a flavor of what is going on here; and it turns out BBC correspondent Anna Holligan is also there (perhaps she was sent there, but I think it more likely that she was just trying to enjoy a bit of vacation of her own) and you can follow along on her Twitter feed and through the various reports she is submitting to her employer.

In short, Greece is now a country in agony, and while helping it out with a visit is certainly “the right thing to do” – well, you old adventurer, South Sudan is also still there for you, is in even worse shape, and would also be very glad to see your dollars or euros.

Those in search of a normal vacation rather than trying to change the world, however, might want to take a cue from the Danes:

“Danish tourists will become ‘kings’ with the drachma.” That’s right (and as Yglesias himself pointed out), with Grexit (which is looking more inevitable by the day), Greece will become really cheap, even as normal commerce is eventually able to resume. This is an interview on what’s likely to happen in Greece with Danske Bank’s chief economist, and the lede is:

If Greece leaves the Eurozone and introduces the drachma, the country’s banks will collapse. For Danish tourists, on the other hand, a new currency will make it even cheaper to have a vacation in Greece.

Cold-blooded calculation, yes, but likely accurate: just wait a while. But if one goes too early? I begyndelsen vil det være en ret bøvlet situation: “In the beginning it will be a rather messy situation.”

UPDATE: In a similar vein, today (17 AUG 2015), Die Welt tells us it’s high time for tourists to return to Nepal, just four months after the devastating earthquake there of the end of April.


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