OPINION

Tourism sector still in need of reform

Thanks to the success of the 2004 Olympic Games on the one hand and to problems in our neighboring rival countries (terrorism, wars, earthquakes, etc) on the other, the Greek tourism sector has done relatively well over the past few years. The problem is, however, that we have not done as well as we should have. And this is despite the grandiloquent declarations of government officials regarding the drafting of a central policy for tourism, offering incentives to investors but also imposing strict inspections on existing infrastructure. Such a move would have curbed instances of profiteering (increasingly frequent in a country that is already more expensive that most of its rivals) as well as limiting health and safety violations. The blame for these instances of anti-professionalism which blacken the image of Greece as a tourist destination in the long run (however much we might cheer ourselves up with tallies of «arrivals» and «overnight stays») lies with a range of so-called professionals in the field, ranging from hotel managers to taverna owners and right down to the barman who overcharges for drinks and the taxi driver who charges an exorbitant amount for just a few kilometers. But if we treated the tourism sector as we should – namely as one of the country’s main «heavy industries» – then such scourges would have been wiped out, an overall code of conduct for tourism professionals would have been introduced and our tourism infrastructure would have been protected and boosted. Monday’s accident off Myconos – in which a sailor was killed and another suffered leg injuries after being struck by a cable being used to moor a cruise ship – reminds us of just one area where infrastructure improvement is needed: the country’s harbors. Existing harbors need to be improved and we need more of them to handle increasing tourist traffic. For decades, coastal shipping officials have been complaining that most island harbors are no longer able to handle the dozens of passenger and cruise ships that visit them daily for at least six months of the year. They claim that these harbors are too small to accommodate modern vessels and thus constitute a threat to ships as well as to passengers. Inadequate mooring space, narrow entrances and old jetties, combined with vessel pileups and unpredictable weather at sea, make sailing into port a veritable test of a captain’s skills. Skippers and engineers say that the frequent mechanical failures suffered by passenger ships in the summer are largely due to these peculiarities; ships’ engines are designed to endure many hours along a steady course, not the constant, abrupt gear shifts required to steer them into the crammed harbors of our islands. It appears that we must still wait for our harbors to be upgraded. In the meantime, at least someone has taken the initiative to start a hydroplane service linking Athens to islands without airports and to the more remote destinations.