Thousands of young Britons flock every year to the resort of Malia in Iraklio on Crete, dreaming of a wild Greek summer holiday. Many will at some point find themselves on Dimocratias Street, a strip of bars known by foreign tourists as Bar Mile and by locals as the Street of Loss.
The dream, however, can easily turn into a nightmare, as it did for 19-year-old Briton Tyrell Matthews-Burton, who was stabbed to death in a brawl on July 23. This incident was unfortunately not an isolated event.
Malia, like Laganas on Zakynthos, Faliraki on Rhodes and Cavos on Corfu, have made headlines in the past for similar incidents. Lewd behavior in public, beatings, rapes, falls from hotel balconies and even a case of a man biting a restaurateur are but some of the dozens of cases that have made it into international media from Greek destinations that have been especially popular with younger, mostly British, crowds for the past 20 years.
These youngsters normally stay for about a week, an alcohol-fueled holiday that often marks the first time they travel away from home with friends.
“These destinations are attractive because they combine lax law enforcement and a certain degree of tolerance from the local community,” Nikiforos Lambrinos, head of the Malia hoteliers’ association from 1999-2003, told Kathimerini.
“Recently we have also seen the added annoyance of large groups of youths riding around on quad bikes, often without having a driver’s license and also after having had a few shots of alcohol,” he added.
“It is sad when you consider that Greece’s tourism development essentially started in Crete. In the late 1980s we had the first reports of small-scale incidents in Aghios Nikolaos, but the residents reacted with such determination that the tour operators didn’t dare book any more holidays of the steam-blowing variety,” said Lambrinos. He added that Malia became the chosen spot and has even seen growing popularity with this category of tourist since Faliraki on Rhodes began imposing stricter rules in a bid to upgrade its profile.
“We can’t wait for the Premier League season to start in mid-August so they’ll be on their way,” said Lambrinos, adding however that there are many local businesses that prefer crowds of rowdy youths to empty rooms.
The fact is that the economic benefits of 18- to 30-year-old tourists “letting off steam” are debatable. Most stay for a week on average, paying 8-10 euros a night for a room during a season that lasts two months at best.
“Bad money chases away the good,” said Lambrinos, who believes that the harm done by these groups to the area’s reputation will take a long time to heal as well as a lot of work and political will power.
“Laganas is a large municipality whose name is being dragged through the mud because of the goings-on on one street,” said Dionysis Komiotis, a former mayor of Zakynthos.
“Among other incidents, we had a spate of false rape accusations, orchestrated by certain foreign tourists who were hoping to get money from their travel insurance,” he added.
During his tenure, Komiotis tried to introduce some changes to upgrade the area’s reputation, but the reaction from the handful of locals who profit from the situation was fierce. “We prohibited businesses that are not in the catering services, such as kiosks and minimarkets, from selling alcohol, we put a stop to organized bar crawls, which had grown to as many as 500 people at a time, and we participated in numerous tourism expos abroad,” he said, adding that a number of locals reacted by “smashing up my office, threatening me and saying that I wanted Laganas to remain nothing more than a village.”
Christina Tetradi, head of the Laganas hoteliers’ association, said the situation has started improving gradually with the introduction of more police patrols. “The British respect the uniforms,” she commented.
In Faliraki on Rhodes, the phenomenon has almost been erased thanks to support from all parties involved to restore the resort’s reputation.
Large hotel complexes are now located far away from the nightlife centers, hoteliers demanded that tour operators change their age profiles and promotion campaigns abroad also started paying off.
“In ancient Greek dramas, after murder comes catharsis. This is what we are hoping for,” said Lambrinos.