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Rhodes ‘free holidays’ for tourists caught up in wildfires – how does the scheme work?

Voucher for a free stay must be used in April, May, October or November – and flights are not included

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Saturday 13 April 2024 06:22 BST
Business as usual: the bay at Lindos in eastern Crete, close to the wildfires of July 2023
Business as usual: the bay at Lindos in eastern Crete, close to the wildfires of July 2023 (Simon Calder )

In late July 2023, at the height of the tourist season in the Greek islands, wildfires swept across part of the isle of Rhodes – triggering the evacuation of at least 20,000 tourists.

Within days, the Greek prime minister promised people who had cut short their trips would be offered “one week of free holidays on Rhodes next spring and next fall”.

Details have finally emerged of how the scheme will work – and, as expected, some significant terms and conditions apply.

These are the details.

Remind me what happened?

Wildfires broke out in the mountainous centre of Rhodes in the second half of July 2023, and spread to the east coast resorts – aided by winds, very high temperatures and dry conditions.

Thousands of holidaymakers were forced to flee resorts on Saturday 22 July, with some British tourists describing “terrifying” scenes of turmoil as power cuts caused “chaos” on the island.

The islanders did all they could to help stranded tourists. Many overseas visitors were placed in emergency shelters set up in schools and other public buildings, and more than 20,000 tourists were flown home early on evacuation flights

What did the Greek prime minister say, exactly?

Soon afterwards Kyriakos Mitsotakis told British television viewers: “The island is perfectly back to normal.”

“For all of those whose holidays were cut short as a result of the wildfires, the Greek government – in cooperation with the local authorities – will offer one week of free holidays on Rhodes next spring and next fall so that we make sure that they come back to the island and that they enjoy its natural beauty.”

But since the prime minister made his promise, details have been sketchy. But now the Greek government has set up a website telling travellers about “Rodos Week”. This is not a specific seven days in the calendar, but an entitlement to a week’s worth of accommodation.

Who qualifies?

“All adult individuals, regardless of nationality, who were staying in hotels evacuated during the wildfires on the island of Rhodes in July 2023” are entitled to a voucher for accommodation.

People who ended holidays early may already have been included in the “Registry of Beneficiaries” compiled by the tourism authorities in Rhodes. If not they can apply for inclusion. The claim will be checked against hotel records.

What do they get – and how do they book a free holiday?

A voucher for a week’s stay in roughly the same standard of accommodation comparable to what they originally had.

  • For a 1, 2, or 3-star hotel, it’s €300 (£256) for the entire stay – unless it was for a room with four beds or more, in which case it is €400 (£341).
  • For 4 or 5-star hotels, it’s €400 (£341) – or €500 for people who were staying in larger rooms.

These are awarded for each person on the original trip – so a couple will get two vouchers between them, worth a minimum of €600 (£512).

Where and when can the voucher be used?

At one of the participating hotels offered on the redemption website. The stay can be up to 31 May 2024 and from 1 October to 15 November 2024.

They will not necessarily be accepted for any date – for example, many hotels are likely to be full during half-term week. But the Rhodes Hotels Association guarantees all requests should be honoured by the end of the second phase.

What about flights?

They are not included – and neither are transfers from the airport to the hotel and travel insurance.

Research by The Independent shows typical fares from Manchester to Rhodes in May on easyJet at around £300 return, while British Airways flights from London Heathrow to the island and back in October are in the range £300-£400 return – which includes 46kg of cabin baggage.

If I can’t go for a full week, can I make it a long weekend?

No, you must stay for a minimum of six consecutive nights.

Neither can you offer the voucher to someone else.

What stays in an Airbnb or similar rental accommodation?

They are not covered; the scheme applies only to registered hotel guests.

Is the island fully open for tourism?

Yes. I went to Rhodes in late October to see how the island was recovering. In some areas on the east coast there were small pockets of significant damage, and inland, it was clear that wildfires have raged.

But the scene was not at all “post-Apocalyptic” – and for the vast majority of holidaymakers to Rhodes there will be no difference from a holiday they could have enjoyed before . You can expect to be as warmly welcomed as ever.

Has any other destination done something like this?

Not that I’m aware of. At the end of the Covid pandemic, some countries offered vouchers to citizens for holidays – a kind of “get out to help out” scheme. But in the aftermath of a natural disaster it is unprecedented.

Greece is heavily dependent on tourism, and the prime minister was keen to get ahead of the problem – and persuade holidaymakers that they would be able to return without a care.

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