(Athens) The number of tourists in Greece has recorded a record since the start of the year despite the fires and heatwave that hit the country during the summer, according to statistics published on Monday.

From January to the end of August, 22.65 million travelers visited the Mediterranean country known for its Aegean islands and rich ancient sites, including the Acropolis of Athens, an 18.4% increase from 2022, announced the Central Bank of Greece.

This number of visitors over the first nine months of the year exceeds the absolute record recorded in 2019 over the same period (21.84 million travelers).

The 2020 and 2021 tourism seasons had been significantly affected by travel restrictions imposed to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the tourism industry is the driving force of the Greek economy, the 2023 season was marked by devastating fires linked to one of the longest heatwaves that Greece has experienced.

These fires, fueled by temperatures locally exceeding 46°C, had notably ravaged key tourist destinations, such as the island of Rhodes, in the Dodecanese archipelago in the Aegean Sea and Corfu, in the Ionian Sea.

In July, tens of thousands of people, including many tourists, had to be evacuated on these two islands as the flames advanced.

In August, violent fires hit the country again.

For the month of August alone, the traditional “peak” of the tourist season on the Mediterranean rim, the number of foreign tourists reached 6.48 million, an increase of 10.4% compared to 2022.

In August 2019, however, there were slightly more of them, at 6.76 million.

Tourists from the United States were more numerous this year with a jump of 50.3% in August compared to the same period in 2022.

In a country where tourism activity represents around a quarter of GDP, some denounce the scourge of “overtourism” on certain islands and the exorbitant prices on others such as Mykonos and Santorini, in the Cyclades.

A “beach towel movement”, a citizen initiative, emerged during the summer, denouncing the appropriation of numerous beaches invaded by parasols and deck chairs rented by the day at sometimes very high rates.