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Greece gives away 25,000 free holidays – with the majority going to Brits – for tourists affected by wildfires last year

Greece is offering up to 25,000 people ‘free’ holidays in what is thought to be a world-first scheme that will see the government compensate tourists forced to flee Rhodes after brutal wildfires last year. 

Officials say anyone who was evacuated from a hotel on the island and had their holiday cut short is eligible to claim vouchers of up to 500 euros that will cover the cost of a week-long stay. 

Customers whose claims are approved can enjoy another holiday in Greece at any time between now and May 31, or from October 1 to November 15.

Some 5,000 holidaymakers have already signed up, officials claim, with many more expected to take up the offer. 

The scheme, named ‘Rodos Week’, was concocted by Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in conjunction with the country’s tourism ministry and hoteliers on Rhodes.

It was announced to British tourists on ITV’s Good Morning Britain to drive awareness, given that the majority of holidaymakers evacuated from Rhodes last year were Brits. 

The travel and tourism sector is a huge part of the Greek economy, accounting for almost one-fifth of the nation’s GDP in 2022 – just one year removed from coronavirus lockdowns. 

Almost 4.5million Britons visited Greece that year, according to official figures, with some 10,000 Brits among the 25,000 tourists evacuated from Rhodes after wildfires last July. 

Officials say anyone who was evacuated from a hotel in Rhodes and had their holiday cut short is eligible to claim vouchers of up to 500 euros that will cover the cost of a week-long stay 

Before the fires: The Lindian Village Beach Resort in Rhodes is seen in this aerial image displayed on the Jet2Holidays website, showing what the pool area looked like before July’s wildfires

Smoke and flames rise from a wildfire on the island of Rhodes as thousands of Britons flee and head home

The four-star Princess Sun hotel is seen last July following destructive wildfires in Greece

Greece battled over 600 fires in July amid temperatures as high as 46 degrees Celsius

‘The scheme is up and running as the prime minister promised,’ Myron Flouris, the Greek tourism ministry’s general secretary, told The Guardian. 

‘It’s been a very complicated process not least, I think, because we’re the first country in the world to do this.’ 

Tourists who believe they are eligible to claim a voucher must liaise directly with the Greek government via a portal on the Rodos Week website. 

Customers who were not added to the registry of beneficiaries by their hotels or tour operators can still register for the scheme directly, provided they can give proof of their stay and other necessary information requested on the website. 

There are limits to the scheme, however, with tourism operators pointing out the vouchers can only be claimed by guests evacuated from recognised hotels.

Those who stayed in private accommodation or independent B&Bs rented out via platforms such as Airbnb are not eligible to claim free digs, and customers will still be required to pay for flights. 

‘Anyone who was staying in areas that were affected by the fires is eligible… it will apply only to hotels, not Airbnb-style private accommodation,’ hotelier union chief Yannis Papavasiliou said. 

Meanwhile, it appears that only adults are able to claim their free accommodation, with no provisions made for children who accompanied them. 

‘Beneficiaries can be all adult individuals, regardless of nationality, who were staying in hotels evacuated during the wildfires on the island of Rhodes in July 2023,’ an official statement on the Rodos Now website read.

Nevertheless, hotel chiefs expect the uptake to increase towards the autumn as Brits look to enjoy sunny getaways later this year. 

‘The response has been very good and we are told will be even stronger come the autumn,’ Papavasiliou said.

The scale of the damage from wildfires in Kiotari, Rhodes, Greece 

Sun loungers and a bar at the pool of a hotel destroyed by fire in the southeast of the resort island of Rhodes 

Thousands of holidaymakers were evacuated from hotels last July and bundled into repatriation flights

Flames burn a hill on the Aegean Sea island of Rhodes

Up to 10,000 Britons were evacuated from Rhodes

Last year, several British holidaymakers complained their tour operators conducted flights to Rhodes even as the wildfires blazed out of control.

Many customers said they were not informed by their travel agencies or flight providers of the scale of the wildfires, with some travellers being escorted directly to evacuation centres as they disembarked their flights. 

Helen Tonks, a mother-of-six from Cheshire, said she was flown into a ‘living nightmare’ by tour operator Tui on Saturday, July 21 last year – the weekend the wildfires were their most ferocious. 

She told MailOnline: ‘We landed and were told, “Sorry, you can’t go to your hotel – it’s burned down”. 

‘We had no idea the fires were this bad or as close to the hotels as they were. 

‘Tui said nothing, not even when our flight was delayed. Even the captain’s chat on the plane was upbeat. We would never have gone if we had known’. 

Pictures taken in Rhodes in July showed how thousands of tourists were forced to abandon their belongings and sleep on beaches, airport concourses and makeshift evacuation centres such as public sports halls. 

Greece battled some 600 fires in July amid horrendously dry conditions and temperatures in excess of 40C thanks to the ‘Cerberus’ heatwave that descended on much of southern Europe. 

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