Corfu faces another bleak summer as British tourists stay away

ITV News Correspondent Juliet Bremner on the challenges faced by Corfu's tourism industry

Walking along the main street of Kavos on the Greek island of Corfu is a surreal experience. It’s the first week of June and this beach resort on the southern tip of the island would normally be buzzing with young British holidaymakers. Instead we find a town that is shuttered and closed with only the occasional handyman preparing for a summer season that as yet is still suspended.

We make our way to the beach, but it’s the same strange story there: not a soul to be seen. The swimming pools at the many hotels and apartments are full of dirty water; the bars, clubs and restaurants all silent, waiting for the return of mass British tourism which is the life blood of this resort.

Drone footage shows empty sun loungers on Corfu's pristine beaches as the pandemic threatens to ruin another season for the island that is so reliant on tourists.

The owner of a seafront restaurant said she was hoping to open on June 14 but that was still far from certain. Shrugging her shoulders she added: “Covid is killing our business.”

Normally half a million British visitors come to Corfu every year and the island’s tourist bosses are desperate to get their “amber” status changed to “green”. They are convinced that the largest Ionian island is safe and ready.

Last week’s local Covid rate was an average of 15 infections per day amongst a population of 120,000. Coupled with this, vaccination rates are now over 35% and there are strict Covid safe plans for all holiday accommodation. 

Empty beaches in Corfu. Credit: ITV News

Spiros Rokas from the Corfu Hoteliers Association argued that a separate case should be made for the Greek Islands, which have substantially lower rates than the mainland. He is particularly frustrated by the testing regime which currently means that all visitors from the UK should show they have had both vaccines or have a negative PCR test. However, British government rules say that travellers also need to have another PCR test before they go home and two more once they are back in Britain. This can cost anywhere between £300 and £500 and is blamed for keeping most tourists away. Mr Rokas and other tourist chiefs here on the  island want it replaced with cheaper and simpler lateral flow tests.

Boarded up shops in Kavos. Credit: ITV News

A few visitors from the UK are coming to Corfu, but only a fraction of those who would usually head for Greece, the majority deterred by what is widely seen as contradictory and confusing advice from the British government.

It is legal to come here but the government has said that you should not travel on holiday to “amber“ countries.

At Corfu airport on the May bank holiday Friday we discovered a steady trickle of travellers determined to come despite the advice and the cost.

Everyone we spoke to understood the rules and said they had considered the risk and decided that it was worth taking.

One family had a last minute panic about testing their child, but generally the restrictions were known and the visitors accepted they would have to isolate for 10 days at home on their return.

Disinfecting the sun loungers. Credit: ITV News

When we spoke to one of the biggest villa companies on the island it became clear that many more were not prepared to take the risk.  

CV Villas has 120 properties on Corfu and looked set for a very good season until Corfu was put on the “amber” list. Their bookings for May and early June evaporated, and on the day we spoke to their manager not one house was occupied.

Eleni Sarakinou showed us the strict protocols they have to follow by Greek law, including weekly testing of all their staff and thorough disinfection of the villas.

She thought the reluctance to travel had more do with their older clients not wanting to risk the air flight than fear of staying in the properties once they got to Corfu.

There are similar safeguards against Covid at the hotels on the island.

At meals around a shared buffet like breakfast everyone must wear a mask and plastic gloves before they help themselves to food. The chairs and tables are sprayed with disinfectant between customers and rooms only cleaned if the visitors choose. 

"My kids deserve a holiday" - there was a steady trickle of travellers from the UK determined to come despite the advice and the cost

All the holidaymakers we spoke to were delighted that they had made the decision to come.

One couple, Mike Pearce and Lesley Scott, said they had originally booked for a week but extended to 10 days and it had been “the perfect” break.

But unless the rules change soon, Corfu fears it will lose out on another summer of essential business as their loyal customers opt for compliance with government travel advice over souvlaki and sunshine.