ATHENS, Greece (UPDATED) – Tourists heading for Greece were urged to take enough cash with them to last their entire stay as Athens announced banks would be closed Monday, June 29, in a deepening financial crisis.
Even before Greece announced it was shutting banks for a day, many ATMs there were already empty and there were long queues at those still working over the weekend.
But holidaymakers leaving from Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport Sunday seemed mostly unconcerned.
“There is no reason not to go on vacation. Our only worry is whether it is going to be sunny,” said Jean-Pierre, on his way to the popular holiday island of Crete, although he had taken enough cash for his three weeks in Greece.
The German foreign ministry recommended that tourists “take sufficient amounts of cash” when visiting Greece, keep tabs on the evolving situation and check for any updates to its travel recommendations.
After talks between Athens’ left-wing leaders and the rest of the eurozone broke down in acrimony Saturday, Greece appeared Sunday to slide closer to a default with its EU-IMF creditors. (READ: Greece working with ECB to deal with banking crisis: FM)
The European Central Bank (ECB) refused Sunday to increase emergency cash available to Greek banks despite a bank run being underway. Within hours Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras confirmed banks would close Monday and capital controls would be introduced.
“This decision (by Eurogroup) led today the ECB not to raise ELA for the Greek government and made the Bank of Greece ask for the activation of measures of bank holiday and restriction of bank withdrawals,” Tsipras said in a statement that also called again for an extension to Greece’s current bailout programme.
The Greek stock market will also remain closed on Monday as part of measures designed to prevent fresh panic.
For some tourists, continuing to travel to Greece is a way of showing support for the economically struggling nation.
“We need to show solidarity with Greece,” said Frenchman Edouard Phillipe, who was flying to Crete with his wife for their third trip to the island.
“We really like the people there, we need to help them by continuing to go there on vacation,” said Phillipe.
Britain’s Foreign Office warned travellers “of the possibility that banking services – including credit card processing and servicing of ATMs – throughout Greece could potentially become limited at short notice.”
It said “make sure you have enough euros in cash to cover emergencies, unforeseen circumstances and any unexpected delays.”
Afraid of being robbed
Irene Sciales, an American of Greek origin, said she took out cash for her travels after a friend who works at a bank recommended it, but admitted she was afraid of carrying around large sums of money.
“How am I going to pay? With my bank card?” she said at Charles de Gaulle airport.
“I took out 2,000 euros ($2,200) in cash. But once there, I’m afraid of being robbed.”
She was also carrying clothes and medicine for family members in Greece.
The imposition of capital controls could mean businesses may not want to accept credit cards any longer as they would have trouble accessing their bank accounts, even if card transactions are authorised.
The Swedish foreign ministry said it had already heard of several businesses refusing to accept cards. “There is some information according to which some restaurants and filling stations haven’t accepted card payments for some time and are taking just cash,” said the ministry.
Polish Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz last week urged Poles visiting Greece to “not rely only on cards and ATM machines… best to take cash with you.”
Denmark, Finland and the Netherlands also warned their nationals not to rely on cards and take cash when visiting Greece.
Last year, Greece welcomed a record 21.5 million tourists, and is likely to beat that number this year, with 25 million people expected to travel to the country, according to the Greek Association of Tourism Enterprises, SETE. – Francois Becker and Mathilde Richter, AFP/Rappler.com