Summer holidays 2005: Many Greeks planning to stay at home; most will not venture very far away

Over a third of the Greek population will not go away on holiday this year, according to a survey by VPRC, which questioned 614 people over the age of 15 around the country. The poll only confirmed what most of us know from talking to friends and colleagues: Greeks are tightening their belts. The general financial crisis and the rising cost of living has forced many people to switch to a more conservative and introverted lifestyle. One might fantasize about a trip to the tropics or to a cosmopolitan capital, but the most likely destination this year for many is a rented room close to home. The survey reveals complexities in what superficially appears to be a simple problem of finance. The economy tends to reflect a particular psychological climate, and people’s attitudes are affected by the general financial situation. Holidays can be a barometer to analyze this trend. Many Greeks say they will not be going away on holiday this year. This is a departure from a social model on which an entire ideology has been developed since the end of the colonels’ dictatorship in 1974. It’s possible the current financial difficulties could be temporary and due more to disillusionment and insecurity than any real financial straits. But for a considerable percentage of Greeks to say they cannot afford to vacation away reveals cracks in the old so-called «recreation society» in the country. This society appears to have been built on shaky foundations and could now totter under the impending financial crisis. Will the financial crisis be long-lasting or short-term? And to what extent, if at all, will it threaten the prosperity of the many people who earn their living from tourism? Perhaps this crisis will compel the industry to re-examine itself. It could lead to a reorganization in the tourism business that could spur it to update itself, attuning it to the modern problems of today. This could be a good thing for an industry which has followed the same path for years. Cash-strapped The crisis has affected nearly all Greeks. Many are paying off loans and huge credit card bills and are now finding themselves increasingly strapped for cash. The divide between poorer Greeks and the more prosperous middle class could become wider, but the survey shows that the gap is not as wide as previously believed. Apart from the very well-off, the overwhelming majority of the population is, more or less, facing the same problems. Social distinctions are more in evidence in people’s dream vacations rather than their actual destinations. Usually, those with more education and money want to travel farther away. For example, 14 percent of those who describe themselves as more highly educated would like to travel to Asia, compared to just 5 percent of those who say they have only a basic education. Nevertheless, the dream of going abroad does not attract many Greeks A quarter say they prefer to holiday in Greece, even if they have the means to go anywhere they want. This preference for Greece shows that the government’s promotional campaign to keep tourism within its borders is indeed paying off. The Tourism Ministry has even used its slogans to boost local economies. Most beautiful country Greeks may have finally been convinced that they really do live in the most beautiful country in the world. However, the financial security of staying close to home – even if Greece has become more expensive in the past few years – also may be a factor. Even those who have decided to holiday abroad stay relatively close to home – 45 percent choose European destinations while 9 percent go to the USA and another 7 percent to Asia. This seems to confirm the view that the average Greek prefers the familiar and predictable, combining sightseeing and shopping, rather than the unknown or unfamiliar. France and Italy, two of the most popular destinations in the world, attract 11 percent of Greeks while Great Britain attracts just 2 percent. Choosing a foreign destination has more to do with personal preferences, but it is also influenced to a great extent by advertising and the general cultural environment. Holidays with the folks Only 15 percent of Greeks say they have a family house back in their ancestral village, a decline compared to the past. Many more are restricting their holiday choice to what the kinship system can provide. This might not be solely dictated by financial concerns, but rather by social conservatism. Though this trend is fading, it is still relatively strong and shows that Greeks mostly consider holidays and families inextricable. Most are going (and in fact want to go) on holiday with their spouse (38 percent) but many (35 percent) will also be accompanied by their extended family, such as grandparents. What is surprising is that very few Greeks go (or want to go) on holidays alone (just 4 percent). Greeks find it very hard to travel without a companion, friend or member of the family and usually prefer to stay in town even if he or she has the money to travel. The survey shows that Greece might be changing its approach to holidays. But it could be some time before Greeks become more adventurous in their vacation habits. For now, they are sticking to the familiar – and close to home. This article first appeared in the July 24 edition of K, Kathimerini’s color supplement.

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