The tourism boom and its consequences

A new study by Pulse gauges how much stock Greeks put in the sector’s contribution, but also their concerns

The tourism boom and its consequences

Very few Greeks doubt the importance of tourism for the country’s economy. As numbers skyrocket and the lion’s share of investment activity is dedicated to that sector, either in new hotels and holiday villas, or apartment blocks of short-term rental units, however, they are becoming increasingly alarmed about the impact all this is having on the environment, but also on the identity of the destinations that are being affected the most.

Another very real concern is that a vacation in Greece is becoming less and less affordable for Greeks.

These are some of the fundamental finds made in the third big nationwide survey conducted by the Pulse polling firm for Kathimerini and specifically for the newspaper’s Reimagine Tourism in Greece initiative.

The Reimagine Tourism initiative was officially launched last year and is planning a big event in October that seeks to enhance the dialogue between the stakeholders and parties involved in this drive – the state, the grassroots and the businesses – with the aim of exploring and promoting a new paradigm for tourism, which will strengthen the economic benefits for the country, while at the same time protecting the natural environment and the identity of tourism destinations.

Given that this is the third such poll, comparing and contrasting the responses with the previous ones complements and confirms the trends in Greek society, the CEO and chief information officer of Pulse RC, George Arapoglou, tells Kathimerini.

For starters, almost nine in 10 respondents (87%) agree that tourism is “quite to very important” for the Greek economy. The public also continues to have quite a lot of confidence in the political choices being made for the future of tourism, with 54% of those surveyed saying that they are “moving in the right direction,” though the majority of those respondents agreed that these policies need improvements.

Another trend that is gathering support is the desire for “fewer foreign tourists, but ones with greater financial means,” with support for this category going up to 45% from 42% in last year’s survey, and just 20% (from last year’s 23%) being in favor of “more tourists regardless of financial means.”

“The survey includes supplementary special questionnaires, which allow us to better understand the way that Greeks see the future, as well as the benefits and consequences of the country’s main source of revenue,” comments the head of Pulse RC.

These questionnaires clearly express serious concerns and reservations, while a comparison with the earlier surveys shows these have intensified too. Safeguarding the natural environment from the impact of ever-increasing tourism flows and the management of resources is the number one concern for 64% of respondents, as opposed to 60% in June last year. 

According to the Pulse survey, 40% of respondents believe that tourism development “probably” ignores its impact on the environment and 24% believe it definitely does. Only 30% believe that respect for the environment is a factor in planning, with just 5% of those being sure it is factored in and 25% saying it is probably factored in.

On the matter of short-term rentals and the impact the market is having on the urban and social fabric of Athens, where the phenomenon is most intense, 61% of respondents who reside outside of Attica expressed alarm, with 35% being “definitely” worried and 26% “probably” worried. This alarm grows to 69% among respondents who live in the Attica region, with 34% being definitely concerned, 23% probably and just 11% not very.

“What we are seeing, once more, is a high positive perception of tourism and recognition of its importance for the country, without this meaning that people are not critical and believe there are aspects of tourism that require more attention or are alarming – to an increasing degree,” says Arapoglou.

“The findings confirm the interest and desire of the Greeks for an even better performance, but with less of a negative impact and greater financial and other benefits,” he adds.

Tourist arrivals from abroad are expected to rise 10% this year compared to last and travel receipts by around 5%, according to market estimates. Official figures from the Bank of Greece show that the number of travelers in 2023 rose 20.8% to 36.082 million, so a 10% rise like the one foreseen means 39.7 million visitors, just shy of the psychological threshold of 40 million – that is, roughly four times the country’s population.

Travel receipts in 2023 came to 20.593 billion euros, a rise of 16.5% against 2022. This was the result of a 20.8% increase in movement of non-resident travelers, as well as of average spending per night by €6.9 or 8.6% to €87.2 in 2023 from €80.3 the year before that. However, spending per trip dipped 3.5% last year to €570.7 from €591.7 in 2022, since the average length of stay also declined by 11.2% to 6.5 nights from 7.4 in 2022. Increased revenues, therefore, stem from the larger number of overnight stays – which rose by 7.3% to 236,271,200 from 220,213,100 in 2022 – in combination with greater daily per capita spending.

These visitors and the expenditures they made in this country (travel costs like airplane tickets are not included) are not equally distributed across the country’s destinations or across the year. As the central bank reports, a whopping 90.5% of receipts in 2023 were made by five of Greece’s 13 regions: the Southern Aegean (€5.340 bln), Crete (€5.196 bln), Attica (€3.787 bln), the Ionian Islands (€2.039 bln) and Central Macedonia (€1.515 bln). 

In the meantime, the Greek Ombudsman recently published a report outlining a slew of problems faced by these five regions, and more specifically of the most popular destinations within them, from this concentration of tourism flows. 

Specifically, in the report by the independent authority titled “Sustainable Tourism Development: Framework, Infrastructure, Resources,” the following issues are mentioned as being of critical importance: “the non-completion of the spatial planning framework and violations of existing limits, intensive construction and the degradation of public space, the effective protection of cultural heritage, the deficient framework for the protection of protected areas and the landscape, the ever-increasing pressure on coastal zones, the risk of depletion or degradation of water resources, the improper management of waste, and issues concerning the development of the road network and generally transportation infrastructure.”

The survey

The survey by the Pulse RC polling firm for Kathimerini’s initiative, Reimagine Tourism in Greece, was conducted by phone and online using an electronic questionnaire.

It was nationwide and was carried out between June 18 and 20, on a sample of 1,105 respondents who are eligible to vote.

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