Greece Should Give Travel Vouchers to Foreigners
June 15th, 2012
It’s dire for Greece. Listen to my commentary on NPR’s Marketplace, arguing that Greece should print discount coupons and drop them on Europeans to entice tourism. Tourism is about 10% of GDP, and so is Greece’s annual deficit. A massive surge in tourism could make a huge difference. And from the German point of view: Wouldn’t it be a better deal to at least get a vacation in exchange for a bailout?
The bank runs in Greece, Portgual and Spain have just begun. The ECB must try to stanch them and reassure depositors that the vaults are not empty. I’d suggest the ECB rent large, white trucks painted with the Euro symbol, pack them with Euro notes, and send them speeding down the autobahn and through the mountains to banks in the PIGS countries. (Of course, they’d also need Blackhawk choppers overhead to protect them from a James Bond-like heist).
Here’s the transcript of my NPR commentary.
The Germans, the French and even the Estonians have been bailing out Greece. But I’ve got a better idea than stuffing envelopes with euros and mailing them to Athens: if every sixth German, Frenchman, Estonian and their non-bankrupt EU neighbors took a vacation in Greece, it would generate enough revenue to cover Greece’s annual budget deficit. Right now, Greek tourism is about 10 percent of GDP and so is its deficit. If tourists flooded into Athens, Mykonos and Santorini, Greece might survive its great depression.
Is this possible? Can tourism double or even triple?
I propose that the Greek government — on behalf of hotel, cottage, and moped owners — print discount coupons that can be redeemed by tourists from abroad. Sure, these vouchers would end up as more debt, but it would be long-term debt owed by Greeks to Greeks, rather than to foreigners who now charge lending rates that would knock over the Colossus of Rhodes.
When the tourists arrive, they would create a multiplier effect on spending. Tourism is like exports, but even better. When you export, you must actually send valuable stuff abroad. In Greece’s case, it would simply be filling empty hotel beds and boarded-up restaurants with middle-aged Germans wearing brown sandals with white socks.
If Greece doesn’t act fast, its days in the eurozone are over. I’d bet they’d sneak out during a busy summer weekend when everyone else is distracted. Maybe during the Olympics, in the middle of the javelin throw or the high-kick synchronized swimming event. And wouldn’t that be a sad testament to 2,000 years of Greek history?