Greece announces ‘free’ holidays for tourists who fled 2023 Rhodes wildfires

After enduring the aftermath of devastating wildfires that swept through Rhodes, Greece, nine months ago, the country has embarked on an unprecedented initiative: offering “free” holidays to thousands of tourists who were compelled to evacuate the island. This groundbreaking decision, hailed by tourism officials as a world first, aims to compensate up to 25,000 affected holidaymakers by providing e-vouchers worth up to €500 to cover accommodation charges for a week-long stay.

Myron Flouris, the General Secretary of the Greek Tourism Ministry, emphasized the complexity of implementing this scheme, noting Greece’s pioneering role as the first country to undertake such an endeavor. The program will be conducted in two phases, allowing eligible individuals who stayed in evacuated hotels during the wildfires to redeem their vouchers between now and May 31, as well as from October 1 to November 15.

Early indications suggest strong uptake, with over 5,000 holidaymakers already registered as beneficiaries of the scheme in Rhodes. Yannis Papavasiliou, head of the island’s hoteliers union, highlighted the positive response from tourists affected by the fires, emphasizing that compensation would be based on the original payments made to tour operators and range from €300 to €500 per person. However, it’s important to note that the compensation applies only to hotel accommodations, excluding Airbnb-style private rentals.

Greece’s center-right government, led by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, swiftly announced the initiative in response to the wildfires that disrupted the vacations of thousands, particularly British tourists. Mitsotakis, acknowledging the increasing frequency of wildfires due to the climate emergency, stressed the paramount importance of prioritizing human life and ensuring safe evacuations.

For Sara van Oostrum, a holidaymaker from Hampshire, UK, and many others, the initiative offers a chance to reclaim lost vacation time, albeit with mixed emotions. Reflecting on her family’s harrowing experience during the wildfires, she expressed uncertainty about returning to the same hotel and beach, preferring to move past the ordeal. Nevertheless, she appreciates the gesture and intends to spend money on the island, contributing to its recovery.

Despite the involvement of major tour operators like TUI and Thomas Cook, affected holidaymakers are advised to directly liaise with the Greek government to obtain their vouchers. While the terms of the offer, including eligible hotels and coverage for children, may still raise questions, the initiative signals Greece’s commitment to supporting tourists impacted by natural disasters and revitalizing its tourism industry.

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