Travel agents have pledged their support to Rhodes in response to a plea by tourism authorities following the recent wildfires.
As business returns to normal – all but two of the Greek island’s 600 hotels are open and occupancy levels are rising – the trade reported strong late sales for Greece, and Rhodes in particular.
Hoteliers in Rhodes said agents have a “key role” to play in attracting tourists back and spreading the message that the island is now “absolutely safe” to visit.
In total 25,000 holidaymakers in affected areas were “safely relocated” after fires took hold in southern Rhodes and Corfu last month. Tui alone had 8,000 clients affected and estimated the cost of the emergency at €25 million.
Agents said they were fully behind the island, which has seen strong sales after a slowdown during the fires.
Malvern World Travel owner Lee Harrison is due to visit southern Rhodes next month and intends to write a blog post on the trip once back. He said: “It’s important people are not put off from travelling there and that we support the local people. Quite often clients see what’s on the TV and don’t get the proper view.”
Polka Dot Travel director Mark Johnson, who said sales had “picked up strongly again” after slowing during the fires, said: “I was in Greece recently; everything was completely normal and as wonderful as ever. It is one of our leading destinations and we’ll continue to sell it.”
Hays Travel North West managing director Don Bircham agreed there had been “some resistance” from clients to booking the Greek islands “during and for a short period” after the fires but said: “Customers are now happy to have them included when we do late holiday searches.”
The Advantage Travel Partnership noted Rhodes was currently the most sought-after destination within Greece by members’ clients. Greece was the second most-popular destination behind the Canaries for late bookings last week, enjoying a 9% share of total sales.
Chief commercial officer Kelly Cookes said: “Of those Greece bookings, 50% were for Rhodes, demonstrating that it is proving to be one of the most popular holiday spots, despite the recent wildfires.”
The consortium continued to report “massive demand” for lates, with 35% of bookings last week for August and September departures.
Designer Travel managing director Amanda Matthews said the rainy weather in the UK had boosted sales across the board, including for Greece, with late sales now “hugely ahead” of this time last year.
The positive trading reports came as Rhodes hoteliers urged agents to continue pushing the destination.
The Atlantica Dreams resort, which evacuated 1,000 guests and closed for two weeks, is currently “almost fully booked”. Dimitris Nicolaides, co-owner of Atlantica Hotels & Resorts, asked agents to “convince customers the only way to support the island is to come back”.
H Hotels, which operates six hotels in southern Rhodes, closed for 10 days and evacuated more than 6,000 people. Sales director Stamatis Hatzilazarou said the hotel was “at 99% occupancy [in mid-July] and 70% now”, and was “picking up day by day”.
The upbeat reports about Rhodes’ recovery came as relief efforts continued on the Hawaiian island of Maui where more than 14,000 tourists were evacuated due to wildfires which destroyed most of the historic coastal town of Lahaina.
As Travel Weekly went to press, more than $22 million had been raised via GoFundMe appeals, in addition to a $250,000 contribution from Delta Air Lines.
Travel Weekly’s Isobel Turner visited Rhodes with Tui, just three weeks after the island was hit by wildfires
I’m weaving my way through the narrow streets of Lindos, preparing for the climb to the top of the acropolis, where views across the whitewashed village and sparkling Aegean Sea await. The village in southern Rhodes is defined by lively rooftop restaurants and crowded streets of holidaymakers, making it hard to believe we’re a few miles from where wildfires took hold.
In the south, where the fires began, there’s no obvious sign of what happened. Excursions are operating as normal – guests can easily take a tour of Rhodes Old Town, jump on a boat for a day trip to Symi or visit the scenic Butterfly Valley.
We’re reassured that guests who choose to visit the south “won’t miss out on anything”. From the acropolis in Lindos, I’m treated to far-reaching views and I feel grateful to be enjoying this beautiful island. The fires haven’t dampened the warm spirit of Rhodes and its inhabitants – in fact, I think they’ve made it stronger.
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