OPINION

Upgrading tourism

The drop in tourism arrivals, and in a year when the country was expected to capitalize on the hosting of the Athens Olympic Games, will be tackled with an emergency advertising campaign, Tourism Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos announced yesterday. This is a welcome move, but hardly the most effective. The Greek tourism crisis is not a seasonal or circumstantial problem but a structural one. It is reflected in the quality and pricing of tourism services, the shortcomings of the country’s leading tourist resorts, and the failure of authorities to protect the country’s natural surroundings. Visiting the Cyclades, Crete, the Ionian islands, or Halkidiki, one is struck by the plethora of things which drive foreign tourists away, tarnishing Greece’s tourism product. Santorini, an island so gifted by nature, is a typical example. Lying in the center of the Aegean Sea, a place with unique landscape, ancient treasures and traditions, Santorini has no trouble attracting foreign visitors. However, even this Aegean treasure is being ruined by habitual Greek defects, the omissions of the Greek State, which has failed to take even basic measures. Until a few years ago, Santorini’s traditional village of Oia was considered protected against the ills characterizing the rest of the island. These days, the bay of Armenis is polluted by boat waste. Next to Ammoudi, the flawed operation of a sewage plant becomes a nasal assault, and in Oia the massive inflow of visitors wanting to witness the famous sunsets upsets the peace and quiet of the community. At the airport itself, tourists’ gateway to the island, buses from and to the airplanes are running late because of lack of organization – an early letdown for visitors. One could point out a number of larger and smaller problems to demonstrate that Santorini’s tourism product has suffered serious damage that no advertising campaign can make up for. In fact, a big campaign could perpetuate and intensify the structural problems. Before we go on to promote Greece as a tourism destination, we should first seek to diagnose and cure structural weaknesses. The Tourism Ministry must first of all streamline the administration and establish a reliable system to monitor services. The ministry must recruit professionals, dedicated and efficient individuals who will upgrade Greece’s tourism product and impose minimum standards of services and behavior in the pursuit of the collective interest. Escaping short-termism and profiteering is the only way to make Greek tourism competitive again.