Last winter, police officers on the island of Myconos were given a somewhat unusual mission: to follow concrete mixer trucks from the plant. It was not so much a tracking mission as one of deterrence, aimed at cracking down on illegal construction, and often, as soon as the truck drivers spotted the police car on their tail, they’d make a few turns and return to the plant. Meanwhile, hammering, digging and other construction sounds could be heard in many areas around the island.
“The illegal concrete is poured at night. You don’t think I’ve poured some? We’ve worked at 4 in the morning with flashlights,” said one contractor, who asked that his name not be published. “People build here knowing they’ll either rent or sell at for astronomical amounts, so fines are no big deal for them,” he says.
This was confirmed by a business owner who said he covered his construction projects with camouflage nets during the day so that they wouldn’t be visible. Builders who had struggled to find work anywhere else in Greece in recent years due to the crisis could find plenty of it – both legal and illegal – on the arid slopes of this popular Aegean holiday island.
An island of contrasts
Visitors will find contradictions abound on Myconos. In the town of Panormos, beachgoers are greeted by a sign warning that the exploitation and alteration of the beach is prohibited in order to preserve its natural beauty. On that very same beach you’ll see beach chairs that have been laid out for private gain. At Supermarket Flora, you can buy a small bottle of water for just 20 cents. At the same store, there’s a locked case in the cellar which contains jeroboam bottles of champagne priced at 16,531 euros. Right across the street is the police station, whose parking lot can’t fit all the concrete mixers and dredging machines they’ve confiscated, leaving no choice but to park some of them on the side of the road.
Myconos has restaurants with a minimum charge of 10,000 euros a table. It has special concierge services, among them private security, private chefs and transportation to boats and helicopters. At the same time, seasonal workers sleep in living quarters as small as 15 square meters. According to a report by real estate company Algean Property, the average rental price of a luxury villa on Myconos this year was 10,500 euros per week, surpassing anywhere else in Greece as well as popular destinations outside the country such as Ibiza, Mallorca and Cannes.
Myconos makes the news every summer, either as the most luxurious tourist destination in Greece or, for some, as a place where the boundary lines around social norms are often blurred. Speaking with contractors, hoteliers, local residents, business owners, holidaymakers and seasonal workers, while studying the decisions and minutes of city council meetings and observing the development on the island, one wonders how much more growth Myconos will be able to stand.
Similar concerns existed decades ago. In May 1989, local newspaper Myconiati published a letter of protest written by Bjorn Roy, an architect and urban planner at the Norwegian Institute of Technology, about illegal construction in Platis Gialos, which he described as “criminal.” Nevertheless, the building continued.
So far this year, 40 residential building permits have been issued on Myconos and at least 50 are pending. “Most are for hotels. That is the trend,” said Myconos’s head of urban planning, Antonis Kastorinis. Growth in tourism and skyrocketing rental prices have caused a social problem. Public servants and seasonal workers face problems finding somewhere to live. Monthly rents average out at around 4,800 euros and climb to 6,500 euros during the summer season. One worker told Kathimerini that he shared a 15 square meter room with three people. They slept on bunk beds and, as there weren’t any windows, they had poked holes in the door for ventilation.
Record tourism figures
The number of tourists arriving on Myconos this year is unprecedented. “We’ve had a 20 percent increase in arrivals from last year. It’s shocking,” said Mayor Konstantinos Koukas. “The guests are satisfied. Arrivals this July surpassed the figure registered last August, which is usually peak season. Very good service is provided here. You can find anything – campsites, luxury hotels, family accommodation and much more,” he added. In July, the island’s airport welcomed more than a quarter of a million travelers, a 15.3 percent increase from last July.
A local businessman explained that the secret to the island’s success is its attitude toward tourists. “Myconos residents welcome everyone, without judging them,” he said. He added that the island specializes in 24-hour fun, leading some to describe it as an “adult Disneyland.”
In 2016, the municipal council rejected an application by a business that wanted to put a bar inside what was otherwise not a drinking establishment for customers. The reasons for the decision were that it would lead to conditions of unfair competition regarding other stores, rapid and unplanned business development on the island, and “uncontrolled modification of operating licenses to spur competition.”
High demand has led to extreme profiteering. During the last weekend of August this year, the cheapest single room in the main town of Myconos cost 120 euros per night. It was a 10 square meter space on the ground floor that could barely fit a bed and closet. There was also no authorized license from the Ministry of Tourism sign anywhere to be found. The room was managed by a tourism office and the keys were delivered by an employee by appointment at a cafe.