September is usually the time when the big spenders come to Mykonos. Once the “party people” go home, the DINKYs (double income, no kids yet) and the billionaires arrive to enjoy the late season sunshine and more exclusive vibe.
But not this year. Shopkeepers, bar and restaurant owners and hoteliers are all expecting the season to draw to a close at the end of the month. They’ve been hit by a dearth of cruise ships and Chinese and US tourists, and now new quarantine rules which mean UK travellers returning from seven Greek islands, including Mykonos, have to isolate for 14 days.
Maria Rampia, owner of Mykonos Sandals, which was opened by her grandfather in 1948, said, “I’d estimate visitor numbers have fallen from around 120,000 a month to 20,000. Footfall in our shop in Little Venice has decreased to the point by the end of the month it won’t be worth opening.”
Times were already tough for local business owners on the Cycladic island, due to an influx of designer shops in the flower-lined maze of streets in Mykonos Town. Maria started a website “in order to compete with the big boys” and ships the handmade sandals, which she decorates herself, worldwide.
That diversification has helped during the pandemic, but Maria is worried about the future. “The beaches were a paradise for locals back in May – it was like being back in the 70s – but only the pensioners will be happy if that continues. Next year had better be better.”
In a normal season, the island’s famous beaches are thronged with both jet-setters and student twentysomethings, and clubs and beach bars can charge astronomical prices just for sunbeds. Now those loungers have to be disinfected between users and Maria revealed, “On some of the party beaches, you can get a sunbed for 20 euros with a coffee included, rather than 150 euros.”
Olga Bavlivi, owner of Flaskos Suites in Agios Stefanos, a picturesque beach 10 minutes’ drive from the old town, agreed. “Sunbeds are free from 5pm here,” she said. “In other places, they let you have them for nothing if you order food.”
While the big hotels remained closed throughout the summer, small hotels have fared better. At family-run Flaskos, the 14 suites have their own balconies and Olga’s been able to adapt to strict new cleaning and mask-wearing regulations.
All the same, it’s a very different situation to 2019, which was a boom season. “We’ve lost four months of bookings – March to May, and probably October, too. The British are starting to cancel their September stays. The quarantine restrictions are unfair when there have been no deaths and no one seriously ill from Covid on the island,” Olga said.
“We’ve been full since we reopened, but it’s all last-minute bookings. Plus, we had to reduce our rates by at least 30 per cent.”
She also has concerns for young islanders, saying at least 2,000 of them lost work this summer.
Once direct flights to the island restarted in July, tourists reappeared quite quickly, but stricter restrictions were put in place in mid-August once cases started to spike. Olga said, “It’s a party island and there are no parties, but visitors have enjoyed the more easy-going atmosphere and reduction in crowds.”
Back in the old town, bars and restaurant owners are suffering from the drop-off in trade, both from the pandemic and from the competition of luxury resorts like the Super Paradise Beach Club. Dimitris Vigliaris, owner of Veranda bar in Little Venice, which boasts a glorious view over the ocean, told the Telegraph Travel: “The last few years have been a challenge and we’ve had to adapt to keep up. Usually we have four levels open and now it’s only our outdoor veranda. I usually employ 35 staff during the summer and now I only have five.”
Apollo Voulgaris, owner of Captains restaurant, an authentic local eaterie on the seafront of Mykonos Town, said, “The announcement of the UK quarantine has had a big effect on visitors. There were people who wanted to go the next day. Nobody blamed Greece or Mykonos, they blamed the British government and told us they weren’t doing their jobs right.”
But the season hasn’t been quite as bleak as he originally feared. Apollo said, “It’s been half-decent season and that is all anyone in Mykonos could hope for. June was bad for morale – no one’s ever seen a summer without visitors – but eventually they started popping up. July and August were busy and some days even resembled a regular season.”
All the business owners Telegraph Travel spoke to said the same thing: “It’s going to be a long winter.” However, they remain optimistic that tourist numbers should pick up next year, especially if countries like the UK introduce airport testing.
Olga said: “At Flaskos and everywhere on Mykonos we are working hard to make visitors feel safe. We are starting to get reservations for next year. People need holidays – it’s a psychological need. By next year, we’re not going to be so afraid of travelling and people will know how to live with it.
“The party’s not over for Mykonos just yet.”