European Parliament Report Says Overtourism Ruining Santorini

Photo shows excavation trenches in the south and southeastern section of the hill, on the edge of the caldera. (Photo by Culture Ministry via Eurokinissi)

So overrun with visitors that cruise ship stops will be limited, Santorini – the number one favored choice in 2017 – is in danger of seeing overtourism ruin the reason people from around the world flock to its cliffside attractions and see a dormant volcano.

That was the finding of the European Parliament’s Transport Committee which criticized Greek officials for favoring revenues over the island’s charms and attractions, saying it was saturated with tens of thousands of daily visits.

The committee’s report, completed in October, 2018 but only just now released, said that, “The lack of tourism governance and strategic cooperation between local and national authorities might put the future of the destination at risk,” said Kathimerini.
It added that the “implementation of effective policies aimed at managing and regulating increasing tourism flows is needed in order to ease the negative consequences of overtourism on the local community. That is necessary to preserve the image of the destination, prevent deterioration, and safeguard the future tourism attractiveness of the island.”

The figures included in the report showed the number of overnight stays on the Cycladic island  soared 66 percent in five years, rising from 3.3 million in 2012 to 5.5 million in 2017. Cruise passengers exceed 2,000 per day, reaching 18,000 at peak season.

Assessing the response of the Greek authorities, the study notes that “in the last decades, tourism development in Santorini lacked a strategic framework and effective planning. The destination suffered from inadequate support by the public sector in developing and implementing effective policies aimed at managing and regulating increasing tourism flows.”

It also stresses that “recently, local authorities have been sounding the alarm, but they mostly rely on the central government, while they have limited powers and resources,” and that “one of the few concrete measures taken was a daily cap on cruise passengers, set at an 8,000 person per day.”

The report also cites data from the European Commission’s Policy Department for Structural and Cohesion Policies to note that, besides Santorini, the Ionian Islands and the Peloponnese are also “at a high risk of overtourism.”

In January, 2018, figures showed that the island was a victim of its own success, drawing such hordes that municipal authorities were being forced to limit how many cruise ships can land and disembark passengers during peak periods.

That led to an effort to reduce the congestion that occurs on Santorini in the high season when numerous cruise ships and passengers arrive at the same time, with the government saying Santorini would be able to host only 8,000 visitors per day, down from 12,000 or more in 2017 and in previous years.

Cruise ship companies, which pass by the islet of the Caldera volcano under the main island whose cliffs soar and show off white stucco luxury residences, hotels and narrow winding streets, have been asked to modify arrival days and the times they land to stagger them.

This is why the port fund decided last year to introduce the berth allocation system as of this year, with its President, Ilias Pelekis, explaining to Kathimerini that 439 cruise vessels have registered for 2018, compared to 409 that visited in 2017. There have already been 451 vessel registrations for next year.

Most ships tend to arrive on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, causing massive congestion at the port and on the roads leading to the most popular villages of Oia, Fira and Imerovigli, where nightly stays can cost thousands of euros but the crowds keep coming.

“If the companies themselves fail to modify the visiting times in an acceptable fashion, we will arbitrarily carry out the modifications ourselves,” Pelakis said.

“In some cases we have also requested changes to the times of disembarking so that there is a minimum of an hour’s gap between them and ideally to have some in the morning and others in the afternoon,” he said.

“After examining the number of arrivals, overnight stays and beds in 2016, we determined that at the peak of the tourism season, the island received around 70,000 people on a daily basis, meaning that things such as demand for water far surpassed capabilities,” said Ioannis Spilanis, an Associate Professor of Social and Environmental Sciences at the university and Scientific Adviser at the South Aegean Tourism Observatory.

“Everything increases, including the volume of trash and water consumption,” Santorini Mayor Nikos Zorzos confirmed. “Overexploitation will lead to environmental Impoverishment, and the waste of natural resources will sap the island’s attraction.

“No more hotels, no more cars,” added Zorzos, who has appealed to the government to take measures to curb development on the island.