With as many as 32 million people – three times the country’s population – expected to visit this year, tourism, Greece’s biggest revenue engine, is bringing a boom of critical cash but fears are mounting they could overwhelm the infrastructure and ability to host them.
The string of record runs of tourism years has been a saving grace during an eight-year-long economic crisis that has seen the number of visitors double over that period, and jump 500 percent since 2008, the British newspaper The Independent said.
But it’s coming at a cost as well as a profit. The most popular places, like Santorini, last year the world’s top island attraction, can’t handle the crowds and has limited the number of cruise ships allowed to dock, while there’s been an inability to increase the number of better hotels although luxury resorts are rising.
Nikos Chrysogelos, the Greek politician and environmentalist, thinks so. “We can’t keep having more and more tourists,“ he told the Observer. ”We can’t have small islands, with small communities, hosting one million tourists over a few months. There’s a danger of the infrastructure not being prepared, of it all becoming a huge boomerang if we only focus on numbers and don’t look at developing a more sustainable model of tourism.”
Nikos Zorzos, the island’s mayor, told the Guardian: “Santorini has developed the problems of a city. We have built numerous desalination plants and are in the process of erecting the biggest one in Greece, but in five years’ time I worry even that won’t be enough. We can’t keep having more and more tourists.”
With the peak summer season setting in, Greece is awash in tourists who weren’t scared off by a surge in tax hikes, including extra fees for overnight stays imposed by the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA-led coalition of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.
Figures showed the country on a course for another record-busting year with 2017 bringing in 10.3 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 168.01 billion euros ($194.6), or 17.3 billion euros ($20.22 billion) even though visitors weren’t spending as much per capita as previous years.
Even Athens, usually a quick hit jumping off spot for people on the way to islands, is overrun with people from around the world, Japanese holding sun umbrellas with cameras around their necks, Chinese going into high-end stores to buy luxury goods, the National Archeological Museum and Acropolis Museum packing them in.
The total direct and indirect effect of tourism could be as much as 27.3 percent of GDP or $46.37 billion, the head of the Greek Tourism Confederation (SETE), Yiannis Retsos said, a saving grace during a more than eight-year-long economic crisis that has seen harsh austerity measures imposed in return for 326 billion euros ($381.08 billion) in three international bailouts.
At SETE’s 26th general meeting, Kathimerini reported that Retsos said that tourism has proved tax-resistant after the group had fears that SYRIZA tax hikes would send people scurrying to rival countries such as Turkey or even North Africa and Egypt despite lingering terrorism fears there.
But he said for tourism to keep growing that there has to be political stability, with elections looming in 2019, a revised tax system, a national zoning framework and cracking down on violence with critics saying SYRIZA has condoned anarchist rampages in a bid to restore Leftist credentials after Tsipras surrendered to international lenders and banks.