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As Greece struggles with economic and political turmoil, its tourist numbers are dropping.

According to the Bank of Greece, the number of visitors to the country fell by about 15% in the first quarter of 2012, with 7.9% fewer German tourists, 11% fewer British tourists and 41% fewer Russian tourists – all key tourist demographics for the country. But some experts say that a recession can be one of the best times to travel.

What’s cheaper and what isn’t?
The falling euro is good news for international tourists visiting countries such as Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece and Ireland. Although airfares are still expensive (due largely to high fuel costs), once you reach your destination, local prices will be lower across the board than they have been in the past. Tour operators and economists recommend that travellers visiting Greece should take extra cash in euros, just in case the country leaves the eurozone and returns to the drachma in an effort to regain control of its currency. Introduction of a new currency would take at least four months, experts approximate and a full supply of drachma would not be immediately available throughout the country, according to TUI Travel, the biggest tour operator in Europe. However, euros would still be accepted. Travellers concerned about a “grexit”, a potential exit from the euro, could also consider purchasing all-inclusive, pre-paid trips to Greece.

According to a 2012 report by the UK Post Office, Spain is currently the least expensive eurozone destination for a resort vacation, followed by Portugal. In southern Spain’s resort area of the Costa del Sol, the study determined that a cup of coffee costs around 1.36 euro, a pack of cigarettes costs around 4.55 euro and a three-course dinner for two adults (including a bottle of wine) costs around 28.43 euro. Similarly, the study found that a three-course dinner in Lagos, Portugal costs around 27.35 euro, whereas the same meal in Vendée, France would be twice as much, around 56.97 euro.

To buck or heed the trend?
With riots breaking out in Athens, it is no surprise that tourism is declining in Greece. Although the country usually receives most of its visitors from Germany, tensions over austerity measures are keeping German tourists away. Considering that tourism is Greece’s largest industry, contributing to nearly one in five jobs, political unrest is making a bad economic situation even worse. For tourists willing to make the trip, though, it should be noted that western governments have not issued travel warnings against travel to Greece. Since most protests have taken place in Syntagma Square in central Athens, visiting areas outside the Greek capital is generally a safe bet.

In Spain, protests have been held in Madrid and other major cities. Travellers to Spain, Greece, and other eurozone countries should stay aware of any pre-planned strikes or demonstrations – and the closings and changes to transportation schedules that could result.

The upside of economic turmoil in Europe, though, is that many tourist attractions -- including beaches, monuments and museums -- are becoming less crowded. And with fewer travellers, many European cruises are discounting their prices, especially in the Mediterranean.

Travelwise is a BBC Travel column that goes behind the travel stories to answer common questions, satisfy uncommon curiosities and uncover some of the mystery surrounding travel. If you have a burning travel question, contact Travelwise.

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