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Greeks try to keep the peace with their dwindling German tourists

Hotel and restaurant owners insist holidaymakers are welcome despite resentment towards Germany over bailout conditions

In Rhodes old town, unseasonal gales are blowing chairs down the street. It takes some leap of the imagination to picture it as the sun-drenched tourist hotspot that hopes to welcome up to 2 million visitors this year.

The big question for the hoteliers, bars and restaurants that generate 80% of the island’s income is whether north European holidaymakers – and Germans in particular – will stay away, fearful of a hostile reception as a result of the savage austerity imposed on Greece as a condition of its second EU bail-out.

Tourism is vital: it accounts for a fifth of the €220bn (£183bn) Greek economy, so it is essential to keep the trippers coming in, whether they are heading for the Acropolis in Athens or the rather less complete Acropolis of Rhodes.

Recent figures are not encouraging: data out last month showed there had been a marked downturn in the number of German tourists. In November – when the eurozone crisis was at its height – there was a 2.5% drop in tourist income compared to a year earlier.

The Bank of Greece said visitors spent an average of €437 per trip, more than 5% down on from the same month in 2010. But most tellingly, receipts from German visitors – possibly anticipating a less than rapturous welcome – were down by more than 50%.

In Rhodes, however, hoteliers and bar owners insist the Germans were very much welcome – even if Greek smiles might come through gritted teeth.

Alexandria Chatzimichali, marketing manager at the Casino Rodos, says hotels are reporting a drop in demand for high-end accommodation, particularly from Germans.

“They believe they will be hated and chased out,” she says. “You see it in Athens – there is hostility to Germans there. Rhodes is not there yet.” But, Chatzimichali warns: ” If something big happens, if we go officially bankrupt …”

Alex Iatridis, 31, a newsagent near the old town, insists there will be no animosity towards their German paymasters because everyone on the island understands “they bring so much money to the island on their holidays”.

But, he points out, there is a generational divide in attitudes. “Some of us are very angry when we see Germans. But it is mostly older people. The younger people understand it is not Germany’s fault but our own fault.

“Most people understand it is our problem, and want change in our politics,” he says. “They want the politicians who made this mess to bring back the money or go to jail. We dream that change will happen.”

His point on different attitudes, depending on age, is illustrated by the elderly owner of a beachfront hotel. “We won’t mention the war, but we would like to,” she says. “This (Germany’s insistence on salary and public services cuts) is bringing back memories ,” she says. “They killed a lot of people during the war.”

Greeks are asking, “why must we pay and pay and pay” when “Germany has not paid us” up to £60bn in disputed reparations. “We are taking money from the European Union, but we will give it back more than 10 times over.”

Despite her tough words the hotelier, who insists that her name and the name of her hotel do not appear, says she will still welcome her German guests. ” I prefer the English, the Italians, the Dutch, but the Germans hold the power, so we will be very nice to them.”

It is a similar story across the island. Waiting at a bus stop in Rhodes town centre for a bus to the airport for a flight home to his native Crete Manos Karandinakis, a Greek soldier serving on Rhodes, says fewer Germans are coming to the island than usual, but he says: “There are no problems here. The major problems are in Athens. Athens is now probably the worst capital – no the worst city – in all of Europe.”

Karandinakis believes that, if anything, Greeks do not want to go to Germany rather than the other way round. “I speak German, and I wanted to go there. But I’m not sure now,” he says.

Chatzimichali says the casino business is facing tough times, as both overseas and Greek gamblers stay away. “It’s not great. We’ve had a drop off of about 20%, but at least the drop hasn’t been as bad at other casinos in Greece.”

She says the casino, which counts the former Greek PM George Papandreou among its players, no longer attracts enough high rollers to occupy its 33 deluxe suites. “If someone is going to lose €200,000 in a night of course they get a suite,” she says. “But there aren’t enough anymore so we are exploring selling them [the suites] as a hotel.”

Manolis Kampouropoulos, the deputy mayor and head of tourism, says Rhodes has so far been insulated from the worst effects of the debt crisis.

“There is a crisis in Greece,” he says, “but it is not felt as strongly here because of the tourists.”

There have been no big protests or unrest on the island, he says, and he blames the media for sensationalising “small protests or riots” in Athens. “You will not find people sleeping on the streets or other problems here,” he adds. “Rhodes is very peaceful place.”

The majority of tourists have traditionally come from Germany, the UK and Scandinavia, but the number from Russia and former Soviet states are increasing – the latest figures show revenue from Russian visitors up 88% on the same month a year earlier.

But Kampouropoulos said there have been no official reports so far of a drop in German visitors to the island, and says “Perhaps they [Greeks] are more angry at politicians and the German state not with the people themselves. “Rhodes and Greece is known for its politeness.”

With perhaps one or two exceptions. A local estate agent recounts the response from a Greek client when he told her he worked for the German-owned Engel & Völkers chain: “Take your things”, she told him, “and get the fuck out of here.” © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds