Mykonos, Greece (CNN) – On Greece’s most famous party island, white houses, blue shutters and scarlet bougainvillea glisten in the sun.
Two weeks after the country’s official tourist season opened, everything is quiet except for work to bring the place back to life.
In the maze-like alleys of the capital, where social distancing is easier said than done during the busy summer months, work teams paint luxury shops. If all goes well, they will soon be the backdrop for thousands of Instagram photos again.
In beach bars all over the island, the speakers that usually play bass lines and beats are mute, the only sound coming from the ocean. Music is still not allowed in venues despite the easing of restrictions on outdoor use.
Clubs remain closed in hopes of reopening soon as Operation Blue Freedom gains momentum. This is the name of the Greek government’s plan to declare 80 islands – including most of the country’s top tourist destinations – Covid-safe by the end of June.
The key is an aggressive vaccination campaign to stab every islander. Visitors are only allowed to come if they are vaccinated, have recovered from an infection, or have a negative PCR test.
The vaccination appointments are fully booked in the health center of Mykonos, more than half of the island’s population has received at least one vaccination.
Real estate agent Jerry Markantonatos just received his jab. “I’ve been waiting for this moment since the first day the virus spread,” he told CNN.
“To be honest, I feel very lucky because I am in the tourism business, I have a family, parents. It is a great relief for me that everyone who visits Mykonos and Greece has to prove that they are negative and that we are vaccinated too are.” We can guarantee protection. Mykonos will definitely be a covid-free island this summer. “
Mykonos is famous for its night life.
Greece’s post-Covid economic recovery plans are being driven by tourism. The industry accounts for 18% of the Greek economy and one in five jobs. It’s the same industry that helped Athens out of a 10-year financial crisis that ended right before the Covid outbreak.
Last year, the country received less than a third of its tourists compared to 2019, when over 31 million visitors came, according to the UNWTO, the United Nations tourism organization.
“The Mykoneans were shocked to see their island with only a few tourists they are used to,” says Mayor Konstantinos Koukas. “But this year all signs show that arrivals could double those of 2020.”
With the country’s government keen to roll out the welcome mat, Athens has taken steps that surpass those of other major Mediterranean tourism-dependent countries.
In early April, while Greece was under lockdown and seeing a surge in cases, Greece opened routes to leisure travelers from select countries that had made rapid strides in vaccinating their populations.
The visitors are already trickling back onto the party island.
Elinda Labropoulou / CNN
On April 19, it was the second EU country after Croatia to allow Americans to enter the country without quarantine. The move marked the first time the country had been open to American visitors since March 2020, when Greece put in its first lockdown at the beginning of the pandemic.
With US visitors being Greece’s largest issuing point, Athens is hoping for a surge in American travelers in the summer fueled by an increase in US airlines’ direct flights between the two countries. The US Ambassador to Greece, Geoffrey Pyatt, recently praised the “record number of nine daily direct flights by US airlines to Greece this summer”.
With dozens of islands already fully vaccinated and long stretches of pristine coastline, Greece promises plenty of space and choice.
It is more complicated in Mykonos, where, unlike many other idyllic travel destinations, the island’s brand and sales are shaped by nightlife, which a local club owner describes as a “tough nut to crack” in the logistics of the Covid era.
Mykonos venue owners hope the Covid vaccine will be the “magic recipe” for reviving nightlife.
Although the US State Department recently added Greece to its long list of countries as “Level 4: Do Not Travel”, the promise of a Covid-free Mykonos has attracted increasing interest from travelers from all over the world – especially from the US – Iraklis Zisimopoulos, CEO of Semeli Hospitality Group, which owns hotels, bars and restaurants on the island.
“We get a lot of questions, but not all of them can be translated into bookings,” he says. “The two main questions are whether we are all vaccinated and whether the guests on the island can really celebrate as they used to.
“We’re telling them we expect things to be very similar to pre-Covid by July 1st.”
Zisimopoulos describes the vaccine as “the magic recipe for resuming nightlife”.
The reopening plans around the world remain fluid no matter how welcome a country’s politics are. New variants are a constant concern. Some countries continue to prohibit their citizens from traveling abroad. Travelers can be forced to quarantine upon their return.
The first mega yachts of this summer have arrived in Mykonos. Champagne is already flowing in the trendy Alemagou Beach Bar and Restaurant and a German bachelorette party is underway. After many months in lockdown, a guest from Hamburg in a flowered dress says that she and her childhood friends are “living the dream”, finally reunited.
“Last year there were the regulations … but we didn’t have any vaccinations,” says Alemagou co-owner Vangelis Siafidas. “This year we were among the first to open. We wanted to show people that they can have a good and safe time. That’s what makes people book tickets.”