The Greek island of Mykonos, ready to party like before covid-19

Mykonos, Greece (CNN) — On Greece’s best-known party island, white houses, blue shutters and scarlet bougainvillea glisten in the sun.

Two weeks after the official opening of the country’s tourist season, everything is calm except for the work to relaunch the premises.

In the labyrinthine lanes of the main town, where in the busy summer months physical distancing is easier said than done, work crews paint luxury stores. If all goes well, they will soon be the backdrop for thousands of Instagram photos again.

In the island’s beach bars, the loudspeakers that normally play bass lines and beats are quiet, with the only sound coming from the sea. Music is still not allowed in the venues, even though the restrictions have been relaxed to allow use of outdoor spaces.

Nightclubs remain closed, hoping to reopen soon when Operation Blue Freedom gains momentum. It’s the name of the Greek government’s plan to declare 80 islands, including most of the country’s top tourist destinations, covid-safe by the end of June.

The key is an aggressive vaccination campaign to vaccinate everyone on the island. Visitors can only come if they have been vaccinated, have recovered from an infection or have a negative PCR test.

At the Mykonos Health Center, vaccination appointments are full and more than half of the island’s population has received at least one vaccination.

Real estate agent Jerry Markantonatos just had his fix. “I’ve been waiting for this moment since the first day the virus started to spread,” he told CNN.

“Honestly, I feel very lucky because I’m in the tourism business, I have a family, relatives. So for me, it’s a big relief that everyone who will visit Mykonos and Greece has to prove that they are negative and that we are also vaccinated and can guarantee protection. Mykonos will definitely be a covid-free island this summer.”

drop of tourists

Tourists have already started to arrive on the party island little by little. Elinda Labropoulou/CNN

Greece’s post-Covid economic recovery plans are fueled by tourism. Industry accounts for 18% of the Greek economy and one in five jobs. It’s the same industry that helped pull Athens out of a 10-year financial crisis that ended just before covid hit.

Last year, the country received less than a third of tourists compared to 2019, when more than 31 million visited it, according to UNWTO, the UN tourism body.

“Mykonians were surprised to see their island with only a trickle of tourists they are used to,” says Mayor Konstantinos Koukas. “But this year, everything indicates that arrivals could double those of 2020.”

As the country’s government is ready to roll out the welcome mat, Athens has taken steps that go beyond those of other major Mediterranean countries that depend on tourism.

In early April, while in lockdown and experiencing a spike in cases, Greece opened up pathways for leisure travelers from some countries that had made rapid progress in vaccinating their populations.

On April 19, it became the second EU country, after Croatia, to allow Americans to arrive without quarantine. The move marked the first time the country has opened up to American visitors since March 2020, when Greece entered its first lockdown at the start of the pandemic.

With American visitors spending the most in Greece, Athens is banking on an increase in American travelers this summer, fueled by an increase in direct flights by American airlines between the two countries. US Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt recently hailed the “record nine daily direct flights by US airlines to Greece” this summer.

With dozens of islands already fully vaccinated and vast stretches of pristine coastline, Greece promises space and choice.

Things are more complicated in Mykonos, where, unlike many other idyllic destinations, the island’s brand and revenue is built around nightlife, described by one local nightclub owner as a “badass in covid-era logistics.

magic recipe

The Greek island of Mykonos says it's ready to party like before covid-19

Venue owners in Mykonos are hoping the covid-19 vaccine will be the “magic recipe” to revive nightlife. Photo: Municipality of Mykonos

Although the US State Department recently added Greece to its long list of countries with a “Tier 4: No Travel” designation, the promise of a covid-free Mykonos has sparked increased interest from world travelers worldwide, especially from the United States, says Iraklis Zisimopoulos, CEO of the Semeli Hospitality Group, which includes hotels, bars and restaurants on the island.

“We get a lot of questions, although not all of them translate into reservations yet,” he says. “The two main questions are whether we are all vaccinated and whether tourists can really have fun on the island like before.”

“We tell them that we expect that by July 1st things will be very close to what they were before covid.”

Zisimopoulos describes the vaccine as “the magic recipe for resuming nightlife”.

Reopening plans remain largely fluid, regardless of how welcoming a country’s policies are. New variants are a constant concern. Several countries continue to ban their citizens from traveling abroad. Travelers may be forced to self-quarantine after returning home.

In Mykonos, the first mega yachts of this summer have started to arrive.

At the trendy Alemagou Beach bar and restaurant, the champagne is already flowing and a German bachelor party is underway. After many months of confinement, a tourist from Hamburg in a flowered dress confides that she and her childhood friends are “living the dream”, finally reunited.

“Last year, the regulations were there […] but we didn’t have the vaccines,” explains Alemagou co-owner Vangelis Siafidas. “This year, we were among the first to open. We wanted to show people that they can have a good time and go out safely. That’s what keeps people booking tickets.”

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