Developing resorts with sensitivity to the environment

Unlike other sectors of the economy, where successful promotion of a product is not integrally linked with the natural environment, in the tourism business the environment is the greatest asset, indeed essential to its very existence. But the Greek tourist industry was not built in line with this rationale, and the result is that many tourist destinations suffer from unfettered construction and general ugliness. The state is to blame, as is the private sector, which has exploited a situation of inadequate monitoring and poor implementation of regulations. Owners of healthy tourist enterprises that respect the environment wonder how high-quality tourism can develop in a country that has no land register or town plans. This lack is largely responsible for chaotic development and the environmental degradation of many tourist destinations. Basically the tourist situation is appalling in general. In Greece it is widely, and mistakenly, believed that the larger the tourist enterprise the greater the damage. The real issue is to determine which forms of tourism suit each location and to channel investment toward them via incentives in the new development law and European funding. The much-delayed sectoral plan for tourism, coupled with the land use plan which is currently being drafted by the Tourism and Environment ministries, will provide some solutions to the problems of the industry. One measure that is a move in the right direction is that of putting old hotels out of commission by offering incentives to use the buildings for different purposes. International tourism organizations and large hotel chains abroad are spending vast sums to improve the environmental behavior of their members and other firms they work with. Local government also plays a vital role, since it has the prime responsibility for the environment in which visitors spend their time. With few exceptions, however, it does not live up to its role, often through ignorance but sometimes also through indifference.