NEWS

The ongoing woes of the tourist season

For the product that is on offer, tourism in Greece comes expensive, with foreign tourists easily able to buy the same product in other Mediterranean destinations such as Croatia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Morocco or Tunisia. And Greeks, seeing their wages remain practically unchanged while prices rise rapidly, have cut their holidays back to a maximum 10 days a year, if they have to pay for food and accommodation. Of those who do go on holiday, seven out of 10 stay at a second home by the seaside, and only 30 percent are able to pay for a holiday. So how can the Greek tourist industry keep going? Tourism is an industry which brings in 18 percent of the GDP and employs 700,000 workers. But it developed in anarchic fashion, without any training or planning, simply by relying on the country’s natural beauty. However good a product is, people will not buy it if it is badly packaged, because they cannot recognize it for what it is. And the packaging – the services on offer in Greece – is bad. Advanced studies in tourism are not available, and the few graduates of tourism schools are snapped up by major hotel groups. Local public services such as prefectures and town planning authorities have never regarded environmental protection as their responsibility. Tourism authorities are lax in checking whether tourist accommodation is being offered legally, so more than half the rooms to let are operating illegally and are not always up to standard. Central services at ministries in Athens see no reason to create infrastructure on islands that are virtually isolated, even in summer. At the same time, Greeks view tourism as a source of employment, as a way of making a fast buck. They become hotel owners, open restaurants or open souvenir stores in the hope of making a year’s income in a couple of months. And since they’ve been able to so do for a number of years, they are hooked on the habit of behaving badly to visitors from Greece and abroad. As tourism brought in easy profits for many decades, other forms of work were abandoned. Demanding tourists can no longer find traditional local products in the places they visit. They get served what they would in any restaurant in Athens, Thessaloniki or even a Greek souvlaki outlet in London. And when they visit monuments, they often find scenes of neglect. Knives out Now that the crisis is here, the knives are out. People are looking for illegal ways to close down hotels. On the large islands, Greek hotel owners are turning against the giant international hotels which they claim are stealing cheap, mass tourism. On the smaller islands, war has broken out between owners of hotels and rooms for rent. And all of them blame the lack of tourists on high prices in restaurants, bars and cafes. The only ones to remain calm are those who have been talking for years about quality tourism and who see visitors as an asset. These are people who believe in creating and offering «added value,» as G. Misetzis from Chios says. They are not experiencing a crisis, and their accommodation is almost 100 percent full. That obviously means something.