Tourists in Greece worry about cashless ATMs, credit card refusal, rising theft

NEW YORK – Tourists on holiday in Greece offered advice to others Monday: Bring extra euros.

Several reported having some anxious moments over the weekend thanks to empty ATMs and merchants refusing credit cards, but the inconveniences eased as ATMs were replenished Monday.

“We were finally able to get cash out of an ATM today, thankfully, since we are running out of euros we got in the U.S.,” said Anthony Adornato, a college professor from Syracuse, New York, heading from Athens to the island of Kea with three other Americans. “We thought we would have to start rationing, but luckily found an ATM that worked after two days of having no luck with others.”

They’d tried five ATMs before finding one with cash, and many merchants had refused to take their credit cards.

Richard Joplin, a realtor in Austin, Texas, arrived in Athens Monday with his two daughters for a 10-day holiday. “So far we have only been inconvenienced with restaurants and cabs only wanting cash,” he said. “I brought euros with me for that reason.” But he didn’t bring enough to last the trip, and hoped he’d be able to use credit cards and ATMs later in the trip.

But others reported no problems. “So far so good because we’ve only been here for a day and came with a lot of euros,” said Chloe O’Brien, 21, of New York City, travelling with her grandma and two aunts to Athens and Mykonos.

Laura Simoes, visiting Kefalonia from New Hampshire, said she had “neither seen, nor felt, any impact from the economic crisis. … Nearly every market, restaurant, etcetera has taken our credit card and never suggested they’d rather have cash.”

Greeks can only withdraw 60 euros ($67) per account daily from banks, but the limits do not apply to foreigners.

The tour group company smarTours, which is sending several groups to Greece in a few weeks, is not seeing cancellations and is simply advising clients to bring euros.

“It is our understanding that our various suppliers are preparing for shortages of goods by stocking up,” said smarTours co-CEO Greg Geronemus. “At this time, we do not believe that travellers are at risk, but this is a fluid situation and we are monitoring it very closely.”

The Tauck tour company currently has a cruise group finishing up with three nights in Athens. “We were in touch with our hotel and our tour director earlier today, and both report that daily life is going on normally,” said spokesman Tom Armstrong.

Jim Christoforidis, a doctor in Chicago who was born in Greece and who’s planning to travel there later this summer with his wife to visit family, said they’ll “probably withdraw a substantial amount of euros” to bring. The biggest issue, he said, will be safeguarding the cash.

“Because we’ll be staying with family, it’s less of a concern,” he said. “But we’ve heard stories of people staying in hotels dealing with theft.”

Nikolitsa Katsoulias, of Ottawa, Canada, who is planning a trip with her fiance the last two weeks of July to Athens, Corfu and Zakynthos, booked the trip on a credit card that allows cancellations of airfare and other prepaid travel, “but we decided to go ahead with our plans anyway. After speaking to family in Greece, they advised us to bring extra euros with us and not to worry. We are going to take a leap of faith and trust that we will still enjoy our two weeks with the possibility that we may hit some bumps along the way.”

Travellers with standard trip insurance probably are not covered if they elect to cancel a trip simply because of economic turmoil. “A traveller would need a covered reason to cancel and economic events are not covered explicitly in our U.S. travel insurance plans,” said Luke Hilty, global head of travel products at AIG. “If someone has a cancel for any reason policy, they would likely have some coverage under that provision.”

Newlywed Gina Cherwin, who works in public relations in New York, planned a honeymoon in Greece with her husband for September. “We looked at each other this morning and said, ‘Here we’ve been planning for six months the trip of a lifetime and what if we aren’t able to go?”’

Because their wedding gifts were mostly contributions to the honeymoon, most of the trip is prepaid. “I was looking forward to doing my part to bolster the economy and eat all the amazing food and see all the amazing sights,” she said. “Hopefully this is a short-term crisis.”


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