Tourists in Greece find ways around the financial meltdown

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The Greek island of Santorini is practically synonymous with a Mediterranean vacation, but just because it looks like a picture perfect holiday doesn't mean it's immune to the country's financial woes.

Tourists in Greece find ways around the financial meltdown

By Monday, Greece had closed its banks and limited ATM withdrawals as it stood at the precipice of an economic meltdown that has been years in the making.

For Max Slavkin and Erin McNichol, who are vacationing in Greece this month, the crisis only became apparent in the past 24 hours.

"I've been following the issues in Greece for a while, and it seemed like an endless cycle of deadlines, and nothing was happening," Slavkin told Mashable.

Even over the past two weeks, as the couple did some Greek island hopping, he says there were no obvious signs of an impending meltdown. "We were saying, 'Where's the economic crisis?'"

"We were kind of ignoring it, and then last night we tried to get money ... at four different ATMs," she said.

"First we'd try to take out a bunch of cash," said Slavkin. "And then when that didn't work, we'd try again and again in smaller denominations," to no avail.
"We talked to a couple of hotel owners, and they were all saying the same things," said McNichol. "'This has been the same thing every day for the past 5 years,' and they would change the subject."

Luckily, the fifth ATM turned out to be the charm, and McNichol said they were set for at least a week. Slavkin also said that they've started looking for restaurants and shops that accept credit cards, instead of cash.

Tourist attractions are also making the move to credit.

On Monday, Greece's Culture Ministry announced that individuals and tour groups visiting the Acropolis will be able to pay for their tickets by credit card from now on.

The ministry said this is a years-long request that is now being met.

McNichol, who had been waiting to book accommodations for their next Greek destination (Crete), said Airbnb feels like a safer bet than traditional booking right now. The site allows her to pay with a credit card, while the smaller hotels and inns have been requiring cash.

Greek Alternate Tourism Minister Elena Kountoura said that tourists to Greece should remain insulated from the country's problems.

“The Greek tourism remains high on the tourists’ preference. The tourists that are currently in Greece as well as those that are going to come will not be in the least affected by the latest developments and can continue to enjoy their vacations in Greece without the slightest problem.”

Greece's hotels association has issued a contradictory statement warning that Greece's move to limit money withdrawals is already having an impact on the vital tourism industry.

"These recent developments in our country already have immediate, real negative consequences on tourism," the Hellenic Chamber of Hotels, Greece's hotels association, said in a statement. "All must understand this."

"We wish and hope that all political forces will assume their responsibilities, restoring the country as quickly as possible to normality and stability, which are absolutely essential requirements to protect Greek tourism and to support one more time the national recovery effort of the Greek economy."

But while European and Greek leaders struggle to handle the crisis, life on the islands continues for tourists and locals alike.

"Generally the people here are super positive, which I found to be really reassuring," said McNichol. "When you ask them, they say they just want to get on with their lives."

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