Holidays in Hellas

People have been misbehaving on their holidays since Adam and Eve gave in to temptation and got themselves – and the rest of us – booted out of an eternity of free time and into this mortal drama of labor. Fortunately, God ordained the Sabbath a day of rest and then modern society came up with the concept of the paid holiday so that we may all get a taste of paradise regained for a few days before we return to the everyday grind. And, for as long as people have been getting into trouble, there has been someone ready to lead them into temptation, to facilitate the suspension of their reservations. In Eden, we had the very costly promise of gaining wisdom; today we surrender to the slogan: «What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.» Then we had the serpent, today we have an industry based on exploiting people who need a break from the difficulties of modern life. From foreign tour agents to local bar owners, countless people have an interest in driving young tourists to dangerous excess on their holidays. With millions of young people visiting the country each year, fueled by tons of alcohol and released from the daily routine, it is only natural that some will get carried away and some will get hurt. Especially if they come from countries where they have a tradition of drinking within time constraints and suddenly finding themselves in a land of plentiful liquor. For far too long, bar owners, tour operators, local authorities and the police were very casual about the well-being of their visitors – as long as they could keep the hordes of revelers coming. This contributed to a sense of recklessness on the part of all involved – from the tourists to the local businesses and the municipalities making money off them. In the last couple of years, though, both the Greek and British authorities have shown a keen interest in keeping things under control. Britons are the largest group of visitors to Greece, comprising, at 2.6 million, 15 percent of the country’s tourists in 2007 and spending an average of 825 euros each during their stay. This is a hugely important source of revenue to Greece – but it is also a huge responsibility for all those involved in the «hospitality» industry, and for the state authorities, to ensure that visitors not only have the opportunity to unwind but also that they do so in conditions of the greatest security. It is invaluable to target youngsters in order to promote greater awareness of the perils of excess, as the British Foreign Office has been doing with its clever campaigns. But it is perhaps even more important to ensure that the local businesspeople and their employees as well as municipal and police officials realize that they have the greatest responsibility for the well-being of their visitors. The government must make it absolutely clear that anyone who encourages binge drinking, who adulterates liquor, who rents motorcycles to people without the necessary driver’s license or does not insist that they wear helmets will have his or her business closed. Also, municipalities that do not create safe conditions for visitors, such as proper sidewalks and pedestrian crossings, but force people to walk along the sides of busy provincial roads or even highways, must be blacklisted by foreign tour operators. Tourism has been a mainstay of the Greek economy for half a century now, a modern version of the hospitality that was a cornerstone of ancient Greek society. No lesser god than Zeus, the king of them all, was the protector of strangers. It’s time for all involved in tourism to remember this, and to do all that they can to protect our visitors.