When their plane finally landed at the emerald Greek isle of Corfu at the start of a long-awaited vacation on Wednesday, travellers breathed a deep sigh of relief.
"Finally!" exclaimed a German tourist.
"It's fantastic, we're happy to be here and to enjoy the sunshine," said Molnar Istvan, a Hungarian on the first flight to land in Corfu on Wednesday.
"We've been waiting for this moment for so long," he told AFP.
Nearly 20 charter flights are expected to land at Corfu on Wednesday, part of over 100 to regional airports including some of Greece's most popular island destinations.
Local operators are just as relieved. For the past three months, even Greek visitors were hard to come by.
"We're trying to save the season," Amelia Vlachou, a jewellery shop owner on Corfu, told AFP.
"Of course it doesn't compare with previous years when we had lots of people."
According to Bank of Greece figures, the country in 2019 had more than 34 million visitors who spent over 18 billion euros.
Operators say a realistic revenue goal this year is up to five billion euros.
Greece, which has a relatively low coronavirus death toll under 200, has launched a promotional campaign to revive tourism, which accounts for a quarter of its gross domestic product.
The country hopes to reassure potential travellers as well as Greeks, who fear a resurgence of the pandemic with the return of tourists.
"Greece is listed among the safest countries. We have friends who told us there's no COVID-19 victim in the island. We feel safe in Corfu," said Anton Fric, a traveller from Slovakia.
- 'We open our arms' -
"This is the first day of the season for Greece," Tourism Minister Harry Theoharis said at Corfu airport.
"We open our arms, we welcome our guests from France and other countries as well, knowing fully well that we can offer both the welcoming hospitality that everybody expects from Greece as well as the safe environment for everybody," he told AFP.
All Greek airports are now receiving international flights and the ports of Patras and Igoumenitsa will again receive ferries from Italy.
Fourteen non-EU countries -- including Australia, Canada, Japan and Uruguay -- have been deemed safe enough for visitors to be allowed back.
But flights from Britain, one of Greece's most lucrative travel markets, are not due to restart until July 15 at the earliest, in line with EU recommendations.
The same applies to the United States, Russia, Turkey and Sweden.
And travellers from China, where the virus first emerged late last year, will be allowed to enter only if Beijing reciprocates and opens the door to EU residents.
Travellers will be given scannable bar codes after they fill out a questionnaire with personal details such as their country of origin and the countries they have travelled through in the last 15 days.
Those who are tested will be told to isolate at the address provided on the questionnaire while waiting for the results.
- A 'difficult season' -
"It will be a very difficult tourism season. We will do the best we can," Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told the cabinet this week.
Theoharis on Tuesday signed an agreement with German tour giant TUI aiming to bring in some 1.5 million tourists -- 50 percent of the number the agent brought to Greece in 2019.
On Greece's land border, one crossing with Bulgaria is open for EU nationals and Serbs, but travellers from Albania, North Macedonia and Turkey are only allowed in for emergency reasons or by special permission.
"It's been easy to arrive through Bulgaria," said Mihail Diaciov, a Romanian tourist who came to Corfu with 20 friends on board six cars and a motorbike.
"Greece is great, food is good, weather is nice," he said.