Comment: Greece is the word

What might a Syriza government in Athens mean for travel? Ian Taylor provides a personal view

The election of a Syriza-led government in Greece marks a watershed in the post-financial crisis era. It is not the end of the world is we know it, though you would think so to judge from some commentators.

Since 2008-09 we’ve heard a single song sung by Europe’s politicians – including those in the UK. (Despite claims to the contrary, the UK will remain in Europe geographically, economically and politically whatever the country’s relation to the EU.)

The song is ‘Austerity, we have no alternative’. Syriza’s victory on Sunday is an expression of what increasing numbers in Europe feel. There must be an alternative.

Greece has suffered more than most, experiencing a depression on a par with the 1930s. Now Syriza has offered Greek voters a New Deal.

I’ve visited Greece four times over the past 12 months. The people encountered as a visitor remain for the most part fun-loving and friendly (I exclude the members of the fascist Golden Dawn). But many are increasingly desperate.

The burgeoning poverty is a disgrace to the EU and the European Central Bank (ECB). (I would include the IMF but impoverishment, dressed up as structural adjustment, is what the IMF deals in.)

Syriza’s election cannot be separated from the ECB’s announcement last week of a €1 trillion-plus injection of Quantitative Easing into euro-zone economies (in fact, into euro-zone equity and money markets).

It also cannot be separated from the decline of established political parties and rise of new political formations across Europe – from Podemos in Spain to Ukip and in some ways the SNP in Britain.

The one sent the euro to an 11-year low against the dollar. The other threatens increasing political instability and uncertainty.

However, we can ignore the dire warnings of financial gurus about any action Syriza may take. Of course, creditors want their money. But the world won’t end if they don’t get the levels of interest they anticipated. It might even be a brighter place.

And as The Financial Times points out the options of Syriza leader Tsipras “appear limited”.

What does it mean for the travel industry? For now and for the foreseeable future, Greece will be an even more jolly place to visit. The mass of people will share an optimism they have not had for years.

I am wholly in agreement with Abta chairman Noel Josephides who offered a personal opinion yesterday.

“It’s exciting,” he told me. “Whatever you think with a business hat on this is a populist reaction. It’s not like last time when there was violence. It’s a happy reaction.

“The problem for the EU is whatever they do for Greece, they have to do for others.”

Exactly – this is the key to understanding the situation. It is the consequences of a deal with Syriza and a softening of the debt conditions that terrifies the austerity mongers and apostles of neo-liberalism.

As today’s Financial Times points out: “Greece’s budget has been in primary surplus for more than a year, meaning it brings in more than it spends if debt repayments are excluded.”

I am also indebted to Noel for pointing out three points in the Syriza manifesto which directly affect tourism and I would not have spotted on my own.

These are proposals to ban all-inclusive resorts, to nationalise the ferries and to reinstate a national airline.

The first is so far from being a priority for the government that we may discount it. The second and third concern transport connections to the islands and regions .

Yet Noel relates: “I had The Telegraph on the phone already to ask ‘Will people be thrown out of hotels?’” What rubbish.

At the same time, there is a fourth point in Syriza’s programme which provides immediate good news for the sector.

The troika of EC, ECB and IMF proposed to insist VAT on hotels must double – it was expected from April. Syriza has said there will be no increase in VAT on visitors because tourism is a key industry.

The one sour note for tourism may be the departure of tourism minister Olga Kefalogianni, of whom Noel says: “She was one of the few ministers who gave you time and when you spoke she listened.”

Beyond all that, what Syriza’s election means is a return of a sense of crisis to the euro-zone.

Greece faces a series of deadlines for debt repayments, the first at the end of February, which will produce fraught negotiations, stand-offs, protests, gyrations on the markets and so on – with who knows what fall-out for governments and elections elsewhere.

It is going to be an interesting year.

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