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TPG editor’s choice award: Why Greece is the top travel destination of the year

Nov. 10, 2021
9 min read
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At a time when the world was still mostly locked down — when the idea of flying abroad for a relaxing vacation seemed like some distant, surreal dream – a handful of destinations were busy finding ways to bring travel back.

Destinations that rely heavily on tourism were, understandably, among the first to develop reopening policies and procedures to allow travelers from around the world to safely return.

Many countries introduced rigorous COVID-19 testing and quarantine requirements, in some cases with entry procedures so arduous they seemed designed to deter travelers rather than facilitate a safe arrival.

Others managed to strike a balance between safety and simplicity, implementing coronavirus-prevention policies that would protect both locals and travelers without making the steps unnecessarily onerous.

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(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)

Sensible health measures

In mid-May 2021, Greece reopened its borders to tourists who could show proof of either a negative COVID-19 test, full vaccination or recovery. Travelers also had to complete a passenger locator form before arrival in the country. There was a clear policy for children who were not old enough to be vaccinated, too.

Greece, of course, wasn't the only country relying upon COVID-19 tests, passenger locator forms and proof of vaccination to screen incoming arrivals. But it managed to do so without making the rules so complex that they were unmanageable.

[pullquote source="Katie Genter, senior writer"]I visited Athens, Naxos and Santorini this summer to replicate a trip I'd taken in 2015. Athens had far fewer tourists when I visited, so I had many sites [essentially] to myself this time ... Naxos had plenty of tourists, as did Santorini .... but since I'd visited Paris before Greece, I was impressed by just how cheaply I could eat in all three Greek destinations.[/pullquote]

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Partnering with the cruise industry

Greece also supported the cruise industry when large passenger vessels were forbidden in most parts of the world.

In fact, Maria Deligianni, national director of the eastern Mediterranean for Cruise Lines International Association, the cruise industry's leading trade group, told TPG the cruise industry and Greece have had a “deep and meaningful cooperation” since the onset of the pandemic.

(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)

According to Deligianni, when cruise ships were stranded at sea and borders were quickly closing in March 2020, authorities in Greece helped the cruise industry get provisions to crew members on board.

Greece recognized "the value of the [cruise] industry ... [and] offering this humanitarian effort in a moment of crisis,” Deligianni said.

(Photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy)

CLIA then worked closely with the Greek government to restart cruise operations there, noting that Greece was one of the first countries in Europe to reopen for cruising.

Greece has always been a popular cruise destination (the third-most-popular in Europe, according to Deligianni), and when ships took to the Aegean and the Mediterranean again, there were strict protocols in place to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak. There were also procedures for disembarking a passenger who might test positive to avoid an entire vessel getting stranded with nowhere to dock.

[pullquote source="Sophia Fen, director of paid media"]In August I visited Greece for the second time [and] absolutely loved it. [We] rented a sailboat and sailed between islands (Koufonisia, Syros and Naxos) for a week and ended with a couple days in Athens. Staying on a boat made everyone feel extra safe as it was just my family and the captain ... Most people (especially on the islands) were so happy to have tourists.[/pullquote]

Despite getting a late start to the season this year, CLIA anticipates Greece will end the year with about 50% of the cruise ship calls it saw in 2019, when roughly 5 million cruise passengers sailed there (of some 33 million tourists in total).

At least 28 cruise ships from CLIA members will sail to Greece this year, and 21 ships have made their home ports Greek ones. It’s a testament to the deep partnerships between Greek tourism officials, the Greek government, the cruise industry and the travel industry at large.

(Photo by Benjamin Smithson/The Points Guy)

This spring, as cruising ramped back up in fits and starts, it made a splash in Greece, which became the epicenter of the current tourism industry.

“The positive economic impact that tourism brings to our country cannot be underestimated,” former Greek tourism minister Haris Theoharis said in a March 2021 statement announcing the return of Celebrity Cruises.

[pullquote source="Ashley Kosciolek, cruise writer"]Greece is stunning, and I was impressed that each island has its own personality — Santorini for the views, Mykonos for the nightlife, Rhodes for the charm. It's also the place to be for cruises this year since most of Europe is only just opening up. The people were friendly, the food was delicious ... [and] locals tell me now — before travel fully returns — is the time to go if you want to deal with fewer people."[/pullquote]

New opportunities and networks

But cruising wasn't the only way for travelers to experience Greece this year. TPG editors from across the country (and the pond) found vacation salvation in Greece. Despite the pandemic, there was a flurry of exciting travel industry developments on land, too.

Onefinestay, the luxury home and villa rental brand, launched a new collection of villas in Mykonos and Santorini. In May, an all-suite and villa hotel (designed by the architect responsible for Mykonos Airport), Kalesma Mykonos, welcomed its first guests. The following month, Banyan Tree debuted its first-ever European property in Corfu. And in September, Marriott added Domes of Corfu to its Autograph Collection, making it available to travelers with a stash of Marriott Bonvoy points.

(Photo by Stella Shon/The Points Guy)

There are already promising developments on the docket next year for travelers eyeing a Greek getaway as well. Low-cost airlines Easyjet and Jet2 are adding roughly 1.5 million seats to Greece next summer compared to 2019, with destinations including Corfu, Kos and Santorini. On the luxury end, One&Only is preparing to open a resort on the Athenian Riviera.

[pullquote source="Stella Shon, writer"]I finally made it to Greece for the first time ever this year ... I visited mainland Greece, where I visited my best friend's village of Kalamata (yes, where the olives are from) and Zakynthos. There's so much to love about Greece, whether it's the dry weather or the dry Assyrtiko, a delicious white wine. I’m already planning a trip to go back to Greece next year because there’s just simply so much that I didn’t get to see.[/pullquote]

Worldwide recognition

The accolades for Greece aren’t limited to the TPG Awards, either.

In April, the World Trade and Tourism Council lauded Greece as a “champion” of COVID-19 crisis management for being an exemplary example of safely reopening to tourism during the pandemic, the Athens-Macedonian News Agency reported.

Theoharis accepted the award, saying, “[Greece] managed to keep the national tourism product alive during a difficult period without precedent. And at the same time, we have managed to keep alive the hope for millions of people around the world.”

(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)

Greece also has managed to welcome more than 6 million tourists between the beginning of the year and now, according to Schengenvisainfo.com, with arrivals at 86% of 2019 numbers.

“It was one of the first countries to announce that it would receive visitors who were fully vaccinated or could show a negative [COVID-19 test] to pass through the country’s gates. Greece was the country that encouraged the safe arrival of travelers, as a result of the general preparation of the country,” Elena Corina Rodriguez, the WTTC's communications executive, told Greek news agency ANA, Schengenvisainfo.com reported.

[pullquote source="Ben Smithson, senior writer"]I went twice this year and managed to visit five islands over four weeks (Kos, Paros, Naxos, Ios and Santorini). It's quickly become one of my favorite European countries. So easy to visit during [the pandemic] with its easy entry requirements ... incredible weather ... delicious food, pretty, sandy beaches and really warm and genuine hospitality.[/pullquote]

Challenges (and hope) ahead

Of course, the coronavirus pandemic remains an urgent concern, and despite Greece's many triumphs, there are still hurdles ahead for the tourism leader of the year. Reuters reported that Greece is facing record-high coronavirus case numbers right now, leading officials to implement strict new requirements at restaurants, cafes and shops, among other establishments.

The wildfires that ravaged Greece this year also were a devastating reminder of how much work must be done to keep climate change from upending the nation's tourism successes.

(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)

But Greece is not alone in this. The ongoing pandemic and the worsening climate crisis are hurdles all nations must be prepared to face as we close out one of the most challenging years on record and look ahead to 2022 with a renewed sense of optimism and resilience.

Given Greece's deftness at meeting the difficulties presented by the COVID-19 pandemic already, the country stands a strong chance of reemerging as an even more compelling destination than before.

Featured image by (Photo by Benjamin Smithson/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
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2 - 10X points
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75,000 bonus miles
Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

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  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023
Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

    75,000 bonus miles
  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023