At last, the government is taking a solid look at tourism. But how deeply? How well? How seriously?
Will this plan consider how tourists are grossly unimpressed when the otherwise magnificent public transport system in the major cities is stopped by strikes?
Or when they take ferry trips only to carry very heavy bags up flights of stairs due to a lack of lifts, or the mad restrictions on the use of lifts?
Will they look at the high number of Ministry of Culture staff who hinder rather than aide tourists, who sit talking on their phones to each other (often in the same room) instead of talking to tourists about the magnificent heritage that so many came to see but also referring to the countless items stolen and now residing in the USA, UK, Germany, Italy, France and other nations.
A good way of getting people whilst in Hellas to think about supporting the return of the Parthenon Marbles from the Vatican, Louvre and the British who stole the bulk of it.
Will such a plan look at programs targeting the older folk like my parents, who have never returned since leaving decades ago? Then those of my generation who have never been or been maybe once or twice? Then our children who are more removed from their heritage but who, if induced to visit, will discover their Hellenic pride.
Will they look at holding major tourism exhibitions in cities with large Hellenic populations, such as the largest Hellenic population outside of the Hellenic Republic, Melbourne Australia?
Will they support new bed-and-breakfasts in semi-rural areas? In medium-sized areas where tourists want to stop overnight but cannot find a room?
What about the professional tour guides, some who are marvellous but others who push tourists to certain shops and certain restaurants because they either get commissions or gifts? And I have been on such tours and observed.
Indeed at two restaurants they gave us yesterday’s bread and dolmades from tins. But at the second one a Spartan lady who decided that she wanted to see more of her Patrida took aim at that restaurant and let loose.
And that is another aspect, the number of resident Hellenes who have not visited historic sites even within minutes of their homes.
My ?koumbarro,? who grew up within sight of the Acropolis, only visited at age 29 after living in Melbourne for four years.
The Hellenic nation is truly amazing. Waters in the Aegean, Ionian and Mediterranean seas that have no equal in stunning beauty or in awesome clarity, and I am a former seagoing naval officer.
Mountains that simply take your breath away.
Stunning rural views that made my heart melt.
Inland streams with water so fresh, so clean and so cool that you do not even realise it may be summer.
Then there is the history, the wealth of antiquities, ancient temples, stadiums and others which you must see at firsthand or die with life unfulfilled. Learn the stories of the ancients (hopefully in the future through interactive computerised systems and 3D wonderment, including holographic displays).
And if all that is not enough, there is the culture, the music, the dancing, the traditions, the wines and cognac, and of course the food. Especially, to display my bias, the ?pites? of Epirus, as well as our cheeses and our yoghurt.
I could continue long into the next year, talking about what the Hellenic people and their homeland, our patrida, have to offer. But I will wait to see what is planned because as far as I am concerned, tourism could be boosted to double what it was at the best times of the past, and then some.
The scourge of the all-inclusive
As a British national and frequent visitor to Greece I read Stathis Kousounis’s article on Greek tourism with great interest. Perhaps the most notable development is the concentration of resources and effort under a single ministry, which is to be supported. However, there is a fundamental issue that needs to be addressed. So far there has been no mention of the issue.
I refer to the all-inclusive hotel trend that has developed over the past five or so years. On Rhodes, for example, whilst the Old Town is busy and clearly a desirable tourist destination, you only have to visit the resorts to see the impact of all-inclusive hotels on the tourism infrastructure. Family-run tavernas, small shops, car rental companies
and others have disappeared over the course of the past five years. What had been a vibrant local economy has been transformed into a sad wasteland with boarded up shops and abandoned tavernas and bars. On Crete, an island I know well and spend several weeks on each year, the impact of the all-inclusive hotel is even more marked. A prime example being Kato Gouves on the north coast where a handful of resorts cater for the bulk of the island’s tourists. On the main resort strip running down to the coast, just two tavernas remain along with some other small businesses. The vast majority of the tavernas, once busy, once with queues outside for a table and employing not only whole Greek families, but other locals, are gone. Gone too is the market for produce, affecting countless small farmers.
Yet there are tourists. Their identity clearly marked with a ubiquitous brightly coloured wristband. They brave the all-inclusive run beaches, retreating back to the hotel for food and drink. They dine in the hotel, perhaps venturing out for organised coach excursions. The tourists are swept past the struggling local businesses in air-conditioned luxury to be deposited at arranged destinations for photo opportunities, then back on the coaches to eat and drink in the hotels. In the evenings they may saunter past the empty tavernas and bars, buy some trinkets from a shop, and then disappear back into the hotel.
The all-inclusive hotels dominate the landscape, no doubt deals have been done in the past to secure the best locations. Sea views, an expanse of land surrounded by high walls to keep Greece out. Inside, the staff are rarely Greek. The ownership of the hotel usually an overseas multinational. The produce shipped in from the cheapest source, rarely sourced from Greece, let alone local producers. The profits from the all-inclusives repatriated overseas.
Whilst the all-inclusive may have its place in tourism where crime may be an issue, such as Jamaica, or perhaps where the quality and safety of food is a concern, in developing countries, why so in Greece?
The all-inclusive is clearly crippling the local economies of resorts across Greece. It is difficult to see what they contribute beyond the fake «Greek Nights», and employment for coach drivers and tour operator reps. Their dominance in certain resorts is to the detriment of countless Greek families. Their businesses have been destroyed by ill-considered approval for hotel development on a massive scale.
As for the tourists themselves, they pay a premium for the guarantee of food and drink all included in their packaged price. What do they see of Greece? Their experiences are limited to excursions and for all they know they may as well be in Spain, Turkey or Portugal.
It may be too late to save the thousands of businesses that have been lost in the tourist business, from the taverna to the convenience store, from the taverna supplier to the souvenir shop. But this trend has to be addressed.
In economic terms, the benefits of the multiplier effect have been reversed. In the past a proportion of each Euro spent in a resort would filter back into the local economy via wages to generate sales for other businesses. Hence, clothes shops, hardware stores and other businesses would all indirectly benefit from the tourist Euro. Income from tourism is now leaking out of Greece, the multiplier effect is working backwards. Only a tiny proportion of the tourist Euro gets into the local economy, the domino effect of business closures is all too obvious to see. Unemployment is rising, the desperation of the surviving businesses reliant on the tourist season ever more clear. They need to make sufficient money to see them through the winter months, pay their rents and increasing tax burdens. Whilst the resort may be busy, no one is buying anything.
Greece I fear has allowed itself to be fooled by the global tourism business. Greece is a product they can sell. A sanitised Greece where the simple pleasures of choosing your own taverna and your own holiday experience has been decided in the office of a multinational by someone who analyses the comparative cost. Simply, the tour operator and all-inclusive have no connection or responsibility to Greece. Counting the number of arrivals at Greek airports as a means of gauging tourism success or failure is no longer of any value to the thousands losing their businesses and livelihoods each season.
I urge the new ministry to look at this aspect of tourism before it is too late. Already, thousands of businesses have been lost, tens of thousands are without work. It may take a generation to reverse this, but Greece must begin now.