Winter tourism in Crete

Someone very recently started a petition to Easyjet and Ryanair for year-round flights to Crete. Whilst I think that chances are very slim that either of these companies will base their flight schedules decisions on an online petition I also believe that it can’t hurt to make our wishes known to them so I’d encourage anyone who flies (or would fly) to Crete in winter to add your name to it.

The petition also brings back the subject of winter tourism in Crete or, more to the point, why there isn’t any winter tourism in Crete.

Chryssi Akti near Chania in Janauary

The beach of Chryssi Akti in January

I have seen people argue that the sea is too cold or that it rains too often. This is completely beside the point: yes, the climate of Crete (or anywhere in Europe for that matter) is not appropriate for winter beach tourism – the nearest place for this is the Canary islands –  but Crete in winter still has much to offer*.
A lot of people take winter holidays in southern Spain and the climate of Malaga (rainfall, average temperatures and days of rain per month)  is almost the same as Crete’s climate**.

So why do people go to South Spain for a winter holiday and not to Crete?
Very simple: South Spain is sold and marketed as a winter destination. There are regular charter flights to Malaga in winter and people know that it is a pleasant escape from the cold and grey of northern Europe.
Crete on the other hand can only be reached by scheduled flights via Athens (contrary to what many people think they can be quite cheap if you avoid the Christmas peak), most known seaside resorts shut down for the winter (because there is no demand for them to stay open) so that it only attracts a very small number of visitors who know Crete well, know that it is also very nice in winter and are willing to travel independently.

The average punter who wants a short break from the dreariness of a northern winter goes to Spain.

Starting any kind of viable winter tourism  in Crete is a “chicken-and-egg” problem:  there won’t be a demand for winter flights to Crete unless relatively cheap direct flights exist. But airlines have no interest in providing flights to a destination that is not popular. Therefore you need availability of flights (supply) and marketing (demand) to happen concurrently to make the whole thing viable. Once this is there you also need to brand Crete as a winter destination.  I believe that with careful orchestration it would be quite easy to jump start Crete as a winter tourism destination, but who will be the conductor?
We can immediately dismiss EOT (the Greek National Tourism Organisation) as the only thing they have managed well since their creation (apart from squandering tax-payers money) was to be consistently useless at promoting and branding Greece.  If anyone could do it I’d put my money on the Region of Crete (Περιφέρεια Kρήτης) who have made a valiant effort to promote their island with their own web site and interesting promotional short videos.  Someone seems to have good ideas and the will to work at promoting and branding Crete.

So, why not a second petition to the Region of Crete to help start year-round flights and some winter tourism to Crete ?

* I will list the attractions of Crete in winter in the next article I write because it would make this one too long.

** The climate of Crete shows huge variations between different parts of the island. Chania and the North-West of Crete is the wettest (coastal) part of the island and this is what I was comparing to Malaga.

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24 Responses to Winter tourism in Crete

  1. constantino pato says:

    yes this is a good idea winter tourism in crete why not….is not very cold the winter here in crete….

  2. Marsa Nyqvist says:

    Last year we spent winter in Crete in it was absolutely great. You get a chance to see whole different island and life. Not to mention all those places that are full of peole during summer, like Elafonissi. Weather was good and warm enough, never under +10 during the nights and yes we where also swimming in December. Flights from Helsinki to Athens via Copenhagen where 169€ and in my opinion that was cheap. I have also spent time in Malga during the winter and weather was similar to Crete.
    I couldn’t agree with you more:)

  3. Susanne says:

    I spent last winter in Plakias (South of Crete) and the weather was lovely. When I say the weather is lovely I compare with the Scandinavian winters, the temps were not much below 15C and not much rain (I believe it was a winter with rain below average though). I started to swim in the ocean when I arrived in October and continued till I left in April, still not a beach holiday more a hiking winter stay with a daily dip in the ocean… I try to spread the word about how great Crete is in the winter time I even invited fam&fri to stay a week or 2.

  4. Terry Sullivan says:

    Don’t you think the Cretan people themselves should have access to this, since they benefit from tourism? In which case shouldn’t this petition also be translated in Greek? It must surely be of interest to the local population too?

    • Jean says:

      Good point. You’ll have to mention it to the initiator of the petition.

      • Carolina says:

        As the instigator of the petition I am open to ideas. Firstly, I wanted to collect signatures from those who would actually USE such a service in order to show the true demand. I am trying to get more Cretans in the UK to sign (students etc) but have few contacts in that area. I already have an offer from someone to go around businesses in one part of Crete collecting signatures, but I fear this is the wrong way to go with this particular petiton. I’m sure there are plenty of Cretan business owners on Crete who would WISH for and welcome winter flights and tourism, but this doesn’t prove to the airlines that there is actual passenger demand. I like Jean’s idea of petitioning the Region of Crete, with a Greek petition for business owners etc running alongside this one. It’s not something I have the time or the contacts to do, Jean says he can’t do it either.. so any volunteers? The ideal candidate would be a local Greek / Cretan working in the tourism industry.

  5. Karen Angus says:

    I agree with everything you say apart from cost of the winter flights , I have a house in Crete and for the last 10 years have visited throughout the year including every winter .

    Winter costs twice as much or on occasions three times as much as our other holidays with lots of travelling in the uk to reach an airport that flies to Athens .Then waiting in Athens for many hours …. We have tried new year , December ,January all to compare costs although new year is definitely out of the price range now ,last year they wanted 1k for two !

    However this said , Crete is absolutely gorgeous in winter, sunshine with the added snow on the mountains which equals spectacular scenery .

    It should be promoted more …

    • Jean says:

      I don’t have specific experience of flights to Britain but in my experience winter flights (excluding Christmas time) to other European destinations (Germany, France, Austria, Italy) to Chania via Athens tend to be around 150 to 200 Euro cheaper than the same flights in the summer ie in the region of Euro 250 – 300 return as opposed to 400-450 (and occasionally more) in high season. But with scheduled airlines the longer you wait the more expensive it gets so if you book your flight at the last minute it will often be very expensive.
      Waiting in Athens is not too traumatic and rarely more than a few hours. Having a book helps.

  6. Solveig Gadd says:

    I agree with you. But I will never travel with Ryanair anyway. I have been in Crete several times in the winter months. I like it a lot! Everything is very calm and peaceful. I usually try to find a cheep flight to Athens and then go by boat to Chania. / Solveig

  7. Valerie says:

    Such good news to read your comments! Thanks. We are staying on Crete until the end of April so truly looking forward to winter here.

  8. Barbara says:

    I live whole year round in Crete and I enjoy the winters a lot. There is so much to do an see and undertake also in wintertime. At places which are very crowded in summer (mostly beaches) you can find yourself all alone! With the first rains in October nature comes back to life and you feel not winter but spring whilst in northern Europe nature is asleep. Of course the weather is not as stable as in summer and if you come at the wrong time you could get a few days or even one week of stormy, rainy weather. This is bad luck. But this is a risk you take with so many other holiday destinations without hesitation. And the climate is still mild and pleasant. And besides Crete has not only that beautiful landscape (from the green hills, flowers, the mountains in snow, to the blue sea, beaches and the wonderful coastline) to offer but also many cultural and historic points of interest to visit.
    Crete offers absolutely what it needs for winter tourism. Also the infrastructure is there, it only needs to get started. So flights and marketing, I agree.
    Jean, are you planning to start a second petition then?

    • Jean says:

      No I won’t be doing a petition. I don’t believe much in the effectiveness of online petitions (unless they get HUGE). But there are other ways to get the ball rolling.

      • Carolina says:

        Jean, what do you suggest to get the ball rolling?

        • Jean says:

          One of them is networking which you sort of imply in your other post on this page. Ask who could do what, sow ideas, check who knows whom and could maybe have a word with so and so…. That’s a pretty Cretan way to do things 🙂

  9. Caroline Holland says:

    I think the petition was sweet idea and although I don’t think it will have any influence on these companies I think copies of it should be sent to the Greek tourist board to let them know what people want. the weather is mild here in Crete and is lovely for anyone wanting to get away from the grey skies of home but Crete in the winter has so much more to offer than weather massive bird migrations and herbs and flowers growing wild. Hiking is fantastic have some spectacular gorges and mountains which are beautiful in the winter. which in the summer are baron and open wide to the sweltering heat and become in possible to master. There are festivities such as Carnival and some years Easter is before the flights start. The roads are quieter and there are massive groups to market Greece to like the Motor clubs the roads are fantastic for the professional bikers to navigate with beautiful picturesque villages. Crete isn’t just about sun and by losing winter trade and being treated as a sun sea sand destination is truly under selling the island…:(

  10. Chrissy Pound says:

    I had two winter holidays in Crete back in the 70s there were direct flights then, I think it was probably Monarch or Airtours, can’t be sure. We flew into Heraklion; wouldn’t think that there were direct flights to Chania at that time as the airport was mainly military then.We stayed in Hersonisos (I did say it was some years ago when Mallia and Hersonisos were lovely little places). The weather was great on both occasions and it gave us the chance to visit historical sites in a climate more conducive to this than in the summer.

  11. kasia says:

    That is an excellent idea with all-year flights! marketing is not so important, really, i’ve heard so many askings how it is here in winter time, that if only the flights would be available, the rest would go fast 🙂 i will forward the petition link. Greets!

  12. Cato Bjerch Andresen says:

    Crete has a wonderfull golf course, which gives you the best conditions for sintere golf

  13. Jill says:

    This is not winter tourism – it’s environmental vandalism!

    A new form of ‘tourism’ is being promoted in west Crete – extreme sports. Two weeks ago (4-6 October) a mountain bike race, part of the Sfakia Extreme Trails Festival (SET13), routed down the kalderimi from Tavri to Askyfou, left major damage in its wake.

    Stones unearthed, walls smashed, dirt tracks plunging down the kalderimi and ploughing through its sides, bridges and jumps across the path – this is the sight of devastation that now greets walkers on this once beautiful section of the E4.

    Who is responsible for this wanton vandalism? Astonishingly it is sponsored by the very bodies you would expect to be trying to protect the environment and heritage of Crete. The Municipality of Sfakia, the Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Chania (MAICh) and the EU Project SylvaMED, – ‘forests for all’) ! Anek Lines offered half-price ferry tickets to the participants!

    This kind of one-off event may bring in a bit of money in the short-term, but at the long-term cost of destroying the very features which attract most visitors to inland Crete and on which the whole inland tourism industry is based.

    This is the second year of this bike race. More extreme sports events are in the pipeline in the area. They may not all cause such extensive damage but no-one seems to care whether they do or not. This kalderimi is part of the old trail from Asi Gonia to Anopoli via Askyfou, hundreds of years old. If it’s not repaired, and unless future bike races down it are banned, it won’t last much longer!

    Jean you’ve suggested networking as a way to get things changed in Crete. Any suggestions for how to get this destruction put right and stop this race coming down the kalderimi again next year?

  14. I would come to Crete in the winter months to avoid the seventeen hours of darkness we get from mid-November to late January here in Liverpool at 53 degrees north. Also, the sun in Crete reaches an altitude of 34 degrees even on the shortest day – compared with just 14 degrees here in England. On checking the Chania Harbour webcam every day, I see that you get a fair amount of dry, sunny weather, compared with the weeks, sometimes months, of eternal grey we experience here. Malta has a thriving winter tourist industry – why not Crete? Where there’s a will, there’s usually a way. I’m so looking forward to being back in Megala Chorafia next Spring (why did they want to change that beautiful name to ‘Aptera’ ?). John Shepherd

  15. Klaus Philipsen says:

    We consider to spend winter on Create (after some winters in Spain),
    Does anyone know which part of of the island has the best winter climate?
    Or most sunshine hours for that matter?
    Ive been to Crete in summer time and remember that there was a big difference in temperature from north to south.

    • Jean says:

      There are plenty of local variations. Generally speaking the South has less rain and it diminishes even more as you go towards the East. So if drier and slightly warmer weather was your only criteria you should go to Ierapetra.

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