Every Greek is happy that tourism will do so well this year and that foreigners – mainly – are constantly buying land and houses on the islands. But at the risk of sounding grumpy at the time of the “big party,” one must ask questions that demand answers. On the one hand, we have a surge of visitors and buyers; on the other, we have an obvious lack of infrastructure and planning.
Where to begin? From the traffic that becomes unbearable during peak season when a distance that once took 15 minutes to cover now takes an hour and a half? The method of collecting and processing garbage that is still from the middle of the 20th century? The lack of water and sewage networks? The ports, whose capacity is for the 1970s? Or from the issues with water?
Beyond these issues, however, there is also the bigger picture. It has to do with what each island can withstand, in terms of construction. Many islands, especially in the Cyclades, witnessed years of a building frenzy that turned large areas into urban landscapes. The economic crisis came and construction halted. But now the “party” has started agai,n and it doesn’t seem like anyone is capable of setting conditions and restrictions.
Municipal authorities feel overwhelmed by challenges and pressures from small and larger interests. They compromise, remain idle and collect votes for the next municipal election. The state does nothing because the political cost will be great. People who fought for many years against those mentalities are starting to give up as they get older and see they are losing the fight.
My fear is that, in the end, the culture of indifference could boomerang on the country’s tourism brand. This is already the case with some of the most visited islands that cannot solve basic problems, such as security and garbage collection and management. It’s crazy for one to spend millions on a house and then realize that the infrastructure around one’s investment is Third World; or paying 1,000 euros for a room and then getting stuck in endless traffic, or seeing dirty cobblestone streets.
A well-traveled friend predicts that, eventually, “salvation” will come from foreigners who buy properties here and will at some point begin to demand infrastructure and services commensurate with the value of their investments. It may be so, but this makes me very angry because it shows that we cannot protect our heritage, our property, our brand by ourselves. And the damage done will be difficult to reverse if there is no planning, restrictions and strict enforcement of terms and rules.