Greece now stands at a crucial crossroads in terms of forging a direction for its tourism development. Barring the years of the 1967-74 military dictatorship, this country steered clear of the Spanish model of large-scale resort development. The deep financial crisis also put the brakes on unfettered construction in many popular destinations, mostly islands. Now we will have to be cautious and provide practical and well-studied answers to key questions: What sort of tourism do we want? Where should we focus? Are we interested in record arrival numbers or the earnings from the average visitor? Do the more popular destinations have adequate infrastructure (water, sewage, waste collection, roads, ports) to meet demand? What are the construction limits for each island? Can there be such limits without requisition of private property? Do we have the right technical schools that can turn out the professionals that the market needs? Do we want Athens to be linked to the casino brand? What would be the pros and cons of each decision? How can we make sure that Greeks who cannot afford access to an organized beach will still be able to enjoy the sea? Have we estimated the advantages and disadvantages from cruise ships sailing around the country’s top destinations? How can we attract visitors to alternative destinations? Do we need to set limits on the rise in yacht rentals (mostly driven by funds from the Next Generation EU fund and the Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027, known in Greece as ESPA) before we reach saturation point? Do we need to place curbs on the most popular archaeological and tourism destinations, perhaps by introducing limits to the number of visitors or raising ticket prices?
There are no easy answers to any of these questions. The pandemic will certainly transform the tourism industry. The international market is in search of quality, sustainability, a slower pace, and smaller crowds. We are still far from adapting to this new reality, although the private sector has taken big steps in the right direction.
That said, the same debate is taking place on an international level; and Greece can draw useful conclusions and pursue tested solutions. Other major destinations, such as Venice or Barcelona, are being strained; and at the same time, they respond to challenges in innovative ways.
Regrettably, there are examples in Greece, such as the island of Mykonos, which bring precious revenue but, at the same time, exemplify the risks of unchecked growth which can, in the long term, undermine the tourism offering itself. This is why we must now start the debate and come up with answers to, admittedly difficult, questions without delay.