Resilience, Greece & Reasonable Questions

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Tourism is Greece’s biggest foreign currency earner. Photograph: Costas Baltas/Reuters

Nearly forty years ago I was in Greece for the second time. I accompanied my mother on a visit to the village where she was born and had lived until her teens. We had spent an extended period in that village ten years earlier, and into my child’s mind it had imprinted vivid memories that, by 1979, were as fresh as the smell of bread baking in the stone oven of that village home. And now, that re-visit with my mother is as vivid as can be, and even has a sound track. That album had just been released and someone in the village had a cassette tape of it, and it played from the sound system of a Volkswagen Beetle, doors open, as we had a meal overlooking the mountains.

I have had one opportunity to bring to Greece the sustainable tourism development tools I have been working with since the mid-1990s. This recent story in the Guardian, too short to truly appreciate the scale of the questions raised, is a welcome reminder to me of the work to be done in a place I care deeply about.

Greece tourism at record high amid alarm over environmental cost

With 32 million visitors expected this year, fears grow that the country cannot cope

Greece is braced for another bumper year. The tourists will not stop coming. For every one of its citizens, three foreign visitors – 32 million in total – will arrive this year, more than at any other time since records began.

It’s an extraordinary feat for a country that has battled with bankruptcy, at times has been better known for its protests and riots and, only three years ago, narrowly escaped euro ejection. Tourism is the heavy industry that has helped keep catastrophe at bay.

But is Greece almost too successful for its own good? Tourist numbers have increased by an additional two million every year for the past three years. Arrivals from China alone have doubled since 2017. But with forecasts predicting record numbers over the next decade, a growing number are asking: can Greece really cope?

The prominent environmentalist Nikos Chrysogelos says: “We can’t keep having more and more tourists.” He says he now shudders at the prospect of record numbers of arrivals. “We can’t have small islands, with small communities, hosting 1 million tourists over a few months. There’s a danger of the infrastructure not being prepared, of it all becoming a huge boomerang if we only focus on numbers and don’t look at developing a more sustainable model of tourism.”

Few would agree more than Nikos Zorzos, the mayor of Santorini. Last year, two million holidaymakers were drawn to the Cycladic isle, forcing Zorzos to limit cruise-ship passengers disembarking daily to 8,000 people.

A growing number of tourists are from the newly wealthy Asian middle classes, with many flocking to the destination to get married or renew vows against its backdrop of famous orange skies, white chalk houses, and the volcanic sea-filled crater.

The increase is such that local officials increasingly speak of tourism as more of a curse than a blessing. Authorities, fearing the strain that it puts on the natural resources and infrastructure of the island, have been sounding the alarm. Although the island is only 76km2 in size, more than 5.5million overnight stays were recorded there last year, with consumption levels of energy and water skyrocketing.

“It’s a radical rise and we are forever playing catch-up,” Zorzos lamented, rattling off the figures. “We have built numerous desalination plants and are in the process of erecting the biggest one in Greece, but in five years’ time I worry even that won’t be enough.”…

Read the whole article here.

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