Greece's 'Free' Holidays Aid Tourists After Rhodes Fires

Greece's 'Free' Holidays Aid Tourists After Rhodes Fires


Greece has taken a pioneering step in the realm of tourism by launching a unique initiative to provide "free" holidays to thousands of tourists who were compelled to evacuate Rhodes due to wildfires that ravaged the island in 2023. This groundbreaking program, announced by the country's center-right government under Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, aims to offer compensation to affected holidaymakers, mainly from Britain, who had to cut short their trips amidst the devastating fires.

The scheme, hailed as a world first by Greek tourism officials, is designed to extend a helping hand to tourists who were forced to flee their accommodations as a result of the wildfires. Under this program, up to 25,000 affected holidaymakers are eligible to receive e-vouchers valued at up to €500 to cover the expenses of a week-long hotel stay. The initiative will be implemented in two phases: from now until May 31, and from October 1 to November 15.

Tourism officials in Rhodes have reported a strong uptake for the program, with more than 5,000 holidaymakers already enrolled in the scheme's register of beneficiaries. Yannis Papavasiliou, head of the island's union of hoteliers, affirmed that compensation will be commensurate with the amount originally paid by clients to tour operators, ranging from €300 to €500. Notably, the compensation applies exclusively to hotels and does not extend to Airbnb-style private accommodations.

The Greek government, led by Prime Minister Mitsotakis, swiftly announced the initiative on ITV's Good Morning Britain shortly after the wildfires forced thousands of stranded holidaymakers, predominantly Britons, to curtail their trips. During a visit to the island, Mitsotakis underscored the inevitability of wildfires escalating as a consequence of the climate emergency, emphasizing the paramount importance of safeguarding human life.

Reflecting on the challenges posed by the wildfires, Mitsotakis remarked, "It wasn't easy...to evacuate 25,000 visitors, but we did it safely and we are very proud of the fact that we managed to confront this crisis essentially without mourning [the loss] of human life." He further elaborated on the broader implications of climate change, highlighting the heightened risk of wildfires and floods across the Mediterranean region.

One such affected holidaymaker, Sara van Oostrum, a business owner from Hampshire, shared her family's harrowing experience during the wildfires evacuation. Van Oostrum recounted being evacuated from a smoke-filled hotel, walking for hours in scorching heat, and spending a night sleeping on a floor before being repatriated. Despite her daughter's reluctance to return to Rhodes due to trauma, Van Oostrum expressed gratitude for the initiative and affirmed her intention to avail of the offer, noting, "We'll take up the offer, and we'll spend money on the island."

The implementation of the initiative involves direct coordination between affected tourists and the Greek government, bypassing tour operators such as TUI and Thomas Cook. TUI advised its customers to individually contact the Greek government online to obtain their vouchers, while Thomas Cook clarified that the process is managed jointly by the Greek tourist board, Rhodes authorities, and participating hoteliers.

In conclusion, Greece's initiative to offer "free" holidays to tourists affected by the 2023 Rhodes wildfires represents a significant milestone in tourism recovery efforts. By providing compensation to impacted holidaymakers, the Greek government not only acknowledges the disruptive impact of climate change but also underscores its commitment to supporting the tourism sector and promoting resilience in the face of environmental challenges.


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