NEWS

Tourism boom putting strain on holiday island of Santorini

THEODORA VASSILOPOULOU

TAGS: Tourism, Environment

Rapidly rising tourist numbers are putting a strain on the local community, natural environment and long-term popularity of the Greek holiday island of Santorini, experts warn. Following a report on Monday in The Guardian about the effects of overdevelopment, Kathimerini asked local island officials and researchers at the University of the Aegean (UoA) to explain some of the risks of allowing tourism to grow unchecked.

“After examining the number of arrivals, overnight stays and beds in 2016, we determined that at the peak of the tourism season, the island received around 70,000 people on a daily basis, meaning that things such as demand for water far surpassed capabilities,” said Ioannis Spilanis, an associate professor of social and environmental sciences at the University of the Aegean and scientific adviser at the South Aegean Tourism Observatory.

“Everything increases, including the volume of trash and water consumption,” Santorini Mayor Nikos Zorzos confirmed. “Overexploitation will lead to environmental impoverishment, and the waste of natural resources will sap the island’s attraction.

“No more hotels, no more cars,” added Zorzos, who has appealed to the government to take measures to curb development on the island. Data have shown that 11 percent of Santorini comprises built-up areas – against a nationwide average of 1 percent.

According to UoA research, 70 percent of the buildings in the island’s most popular villages are new. In terms of hotels, the number of beds has shot up from 9,255 in 2004 to 12,458 in 2012 and 14,095 in 2015.

Not all locals are loving this popularity, or tourists either, Spilanis said. “A tourist satisfaction survey we conducted on a sample of 800 people in September and October 2016 showed that they had grievances regarding trash disposal, congestion and transportation,” said the academic. “But Santorini locals also have to drive for an hour to get to work at peak season and there are businesses that can’t find rooms for their employees.”

Winemaker Paris Sigalas argues that the absence of a coherent development plan is inhibiting growth that would benefit the community. “We are suffering from the human factor,” he said. “The authorities offer slipshod solutions and instead of attracting luxury tourism we are fast headed to becoming a photo-op destination.”

The head of Santorini’s Business Association, Nikos Nomikos, agrees, arguing that the problem is not the number of tourists but rather how these numbers are managed. “We lack infrastructure and personnel in services to keep up with ever-rising demand, meaning that we are missing out on revenues,” he said.

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