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Ambassador report

[Ambassador report] What's keeping Greek tourism from becoming sustainable?

by Theodore Bechlivanis | 10-07-2020 21:28 Comments 5 Comments recommendations 0 recommendations



Last Monday, a flight of about 180 German tourists landed on the Greek island of Kos. The passengers comprised of doctors and other medical staff on a paid five-day vacation trip to the birthplace of Hippocrates, funded by Bild and TUI airlines to reward them for their contribution against the COVID-19 pandemic in Germany. The Greek tourism minister himself was there to greet the practitioners, and remarked that this was an opportunity to showcase the safety precautions Greece is taking to mitigate the spread of the virus.


The weak Hippocratic symbolism aside, this paid vacation is representative of a bigger issue. It builds on the philosophy that European tourists must be rewarded for their yearly toil with a vacation in Greece come hell or high water; and, more importantly, that Greece must accommodate tourists, or its economy will die. With tourism accounting for over 20% of its GDP, the northeastern Mediterranean country cannot afford to adopt a “tourists not welcome” mentality like Spain did a few years back. Worries about the hospitality economy in Greece tanking under COVID-19 restrictions were so prolific during the height of the pandemic that they overshadowed the prospect of a second wave; and as international flights gradually increase in number, many Greek islanders breathe a collective sigh of relief. 


Greece’s dependency on European tourism has a diverse range of implications - even on the environment. But before we start whittling at the negatives, let's consider the obvious positive: doesn't international tourism bring money to the table? It certainly does, but it comes at a price. 


The Greek islands have long been neglected, with many offshore communities having poor access to healthcare, education, and opportunities for upward mobility. Some of the smaller islands can get cut off from the mainland for extended periods of time in the winter, making certain goods or advanced medical attention difficult to obtain. For some citizens of the Aegean, the ride to the nearest emergency room is by helicopter.


It’s no wonder, then, that these communities would latch onto their growing popularity with European visitors to turn profits. Over time, Greek islanders focused their efforts on making their towns and villages appealing to the average tourist, creating accommodations, souvenir shops, and eateries, promoting local points of interest, and maintaining an attractive balance between tradition and luxury. Many learned a second or third language to keep up with the competition. Entire families are now dedicated to the hospitality sector, a line of work that can keep them busy throughout the day; and while this is considered standard in the industry, it raises some alarming questions about the livelihoods of tourism-dependent communities.  


First of all, let’s consider the logistics of running a typical family hotel; do these families have to bend their lifestyles around the needs of their clientele? Hospitality is a 24/7 job, and between waiting on the guests and keeping the establishment in order, how much time is allotted for personal development and the pursuit of interest or leisure? For smaller ventures that require all hands on deck, how much time are children and teenagers allowed for education and extracurriculars, and how does that affect their future prospects? And, in the ongoing cultural adjustment of globalization, to what extent do these communities alienate themselves in order to conform to the expectations of the tourist eye? These questions aren’t strictly rhetorical, but the answers are often unfortunate.


The second question is one of environmental viability. As we break into the era of sustainability and terms like responsible travel and blue growth become increasingly prominent in the hospitality sector, many existing practices can no longer be tenable. But what do these terms mean exactly?


Sustainable tourism is an approach to hospitality that strives for the lowest environmental and cultural impact possible. Holidaymakers can often be disrespectful to their hosts and destinations, sometimes to the extent of diminishing natural beauty. This also works the other way around: many of the services tourist destinations provide cause significant harm to the environment. For instance, cruise ships are responsible for gas emissions and wastewaters that severely impact the balance of aquatic ecosystems. That waste comes from many different places - cooking oil, wash waters, the bilge and ballast of the ship - meaning that the issue of cruise water pollution requires a series of engineering breakthroughs to solve rather than a single sustainability panacea. Innovation is driven by financial incentives, and this is where blue growth comes in. The European Commission defines blue growth as “a long term strategy to support sustainable [development] in the marine and maritime sectors” — which, in layman’s terms, means that environmental responsibility is now part of the tourist economy. 


So where does Greece land in the spectrum of sustainable practices? Or, more importantly, does the country’s cumbersome legal system and massive influx of tourists allow it to keep up with sustainability? The Greek economy has been in crisis for a decade now and has exhibited a backwards legislative approach to environmental issues. The latest environmental reform opened the gates of at-risk natural reserves to mining companies. Multiple islands in the Aegean archipelago have been approved for wind turbines with absolute disregard for the impact this will have on their biodiversity. While the Global Destination Sustainability index - currently the most detailed ranking of tourist destinations - is unavailable for Greece, the above paint a poignant picture about the success in that department. There is also the issue of constant, uninterrupted demand for hospitality services and activities in the Mediterranean that encourage keeping unsustainable practices in place. Why change it if it works?


That line of thinking is, of course, unsustainable in itself. Consumers are motivated to buy green products, and this benchmark will inevitably be applied to tourism destinations as well. As Greece continues to experience a complex economic and cultural relationship with the rest of the world, it will have to keep up with green standards — and that is, among other things, a question of being given the time, space, and respect needed to become sustainable.

5 Comments

sandesh thapa

  • sandesh thapa says :
    Hello, Theodore Bechlivanis

    Thanks for sharing this information and yeah to those who have high dependency on tourism is highly affected by corona. similar is the case here with nepal, our government has just launched visit nepal 2020 and corona outbreak let to its closure.

    Regards
    Sandesh
    Posted 20-07-2020 18:11

Sang Su Mentor

  • Sang Su Mentor says :
    Hi Theodore Bechlivanis, this is a mentor, Sang Su Lee.

    First of all, please cite the research materials that you've used to write this report.

    I also know that Greece is a country that depends on tourism quite heavily. Unfortunately, the world tourism has stopped because of COVID-19. This disease would be more disastrous for some countries that depend on tourism. I really hope this pandemic ends soon.

    I guess you wrote some things to consider for sustainable tourism in Greece after COVID-19 and this is good. Thank you for your thorough analysis and opinion.

    Green cheers~
    Posted 17-07-2020 17:10

Bal krishna Pandey

  • Bal krishna Pandey says :
    Hello Theodore,
    This is Bal krishna from Nepal.
    Thank you very much for your beautiful presentation about Greek tourism. I think the way you analyze the problems, many touristic places have to think with diverse mind.
    stay safe my friend
    green cheers~

    Posted 15-07-2020 00:05

Kushal Naharki

  • Kushal Naharki says :
    Hello Theodore

    Greetings and Namaste from Nepal
    Wishing you a safe stay
    Thank you for your report on What's keeping Greek tourism from becoming sustainable?

    Keep writing great reports.
    We are eager to read more reports from you.
    Green Cheers :)

    Best wishes,
    Kushal Naharki

    Posted 13-07-2020 00:06

Taehyun Mentor

  • Taehyun Mentor says :
    Hello Theodore Bechlivanis, this is mentor Taehyun!

    Thank you for the article that introduced Greece's response to the definitely depressed tourism industry due to the Corona virus! I think the Corona virus crisis will be really painful for countries where tourism can have an important impact on most economic activities. Of course, it's true. I hope you will resolve this situation as soon as possible and establish a sustainable tourism system. Thank you for the article which analyzed the problem with diverse sight!

    Green cheers!
    Posted 11-07-2020 04:05

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