There is no pretending that the images and video footage coming out of Athens right now aren’t disturbing, even frightening. The Guardian published a series of photos today that put the violent protests on full display to a global audience hungry for these sorts of sensational images. As someone whose city was very recently in the glare of the global spotlight for all the wrong reasons, I have seen how quickly media outlets will jump on a bad news story, and how slow they are to reassure the public that violent images do not tell the whole truth.
Residents of Athens are speaking up through various social media channels, including the TripAdvisor Message Boards, trying to tell the story the traditional media is not: “After the protests by that small group of approximately 100 troublemakers (out of thousands upon thousands of people who had gathered peacefully, as they have for the past month), were initially broken up, the peaceful protesters returned, and they will be back again, peacefully, tomorrow… You can choose to believe TV images which have been selected and filtered before being broadcast, or you can believe what the locals and many visitors have been saying again and again over the past months: that Athens...and all of Greece...are safe to visit.”
The U.S. State Department has no travel warnings or alerts regarding Greece, but it did issue a warden message last week advising travelers to be wary of protests in Athens and Thessaloniki.
"U.S. citizens are urged to avoid the areas of demonstrations, and if they find themselves within the vicinity of protests, they should exercise extreme caution and depart the area as quickly as possible," the message reads.
It is important to note that the protests are limited to Athens’ famous Syntagma Square – historically the scene of civil demonstrations. The rest of Athens remains quiet and the Greek Islands, a popular summer destination, "remain as peaceful as ever," according to travel expert Pauline Frommer of Frommer Guidebooks, who also says “I don't think you can write off the entire country because of problems in the capital."
Bargains galore await travelers who are still heading to Greece this summer. Tourism accounts for one in five jobs and almost 18% of the nation’s GDP, so the socialist government has given the sector special emphasis in the hope that it will help resuscitate the battered Greek economy. Ferry tickets are now cheaper, as the administration abolished costly levies. There are no longer landing and take-off fees at airports outside Athens, reducing the cost of air travel. VAT for hotel stays has been lowered from 11% to 6.5% to make accommodation prices more competitive.
The lower prices have not gone unnoticed by travelers. According to Expedia, the world's largest online travel agency, Greek holiday reservations have been made for as late as November for the first time ever. Hopefully international travelers will monitor the situation in Athens, but continue to make their way to this beautiful but recently beleaguered nation to spend their travel dollars where they will make a real difference to locals severely affected by the nation’s economic downturn.