[As some of the interviewees felt more comfortable to remain anonymous, all of the names are withheld. The quotes are all firsthand comments made to TNH.]
RHODES, GREECE – “They are playing games,” a lifelong hotelier on Rhodes – the largest and most populous of the Dodecanese islands – told TNH about the crisis in Greece. “Then again, we have a minister who majored in playing games,” he added, referring to Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, a former professor and expert in game theory.
“Everyone is so insecure,” another veteran hotelier said. “If there is one word to describe the Greek state of mind right now, well, two words, they are: anxiety and insecurity. Let something happen already!” he pleaded, rhetorically. “Let’s either stay in the euro or go back to the drachma! Let’s get it over with already!” he exclaimed, proclaiming that the uncertainty is driving everyone crazy.
“Rodi – la dolce vita (Rhodes – the sweet life)” said an Italian waiter who doesn’t plan on staying on the island too much longer, as there is no money to be made. He might return to the United States, where he had lived and worked for a while, in order to make a better living. What he prefers about Rhodes, however, which reminds him of his native Italy, is that “here, no one is in a hurry.”
“The media has ruined us,” said the owner of a classic rock pub on Bar Street, Rhodes’ premier nightlife hotspot for tourists (the equivalent frequented more by locals is in the Old Town). “The newspapers and the television stations write all kinds of [expletive] about the crisis and they scare tourists away! They’re the reason tourism is down this year!” Tourists are cancelling their hotel reservations because they are afraid, “here on Rhodes and on [nearby island] Kos, too,” he added.
Others have a different take. “We can’t expect every year to be like last year” said another hotel owner – about 2014, a record-setter for tourism. “Besides, it is only the first week of June, anything can happen.” Though some estimate the drop in tourism from this time last year is somewhere around 40 percent, as one longtime restaurateur told TNH, a statistician with extensive reports shared with TNH his own finding, that while tourism is down “30-35 percent from last year,” it has only fallen 5 percent as compared to 2013. “Let’s not go crazy here,” he said. “It is not fair to compare this year to 2014, which was an exceedingly good year. This year,” he said, “is only a mid-level normal one.”
Reports that “the island is empty” are greatly exaggerated. The umbrellas at Aquarium Beach, on the Northernmost tip of Rhodes and in the heart of Rhodes Town, are filled with beachgoers – even as some find the early June Aegean Sea a bit too cold for swimming. The streets, the tavernas, the supermarkets, though not overcrowded, are not devoid of patrons, either. There are no endless lines at the immensely popular Stani, makers of ice cream using fresh milk of the day, but the vats still empty out several times a day, and are replenished right away. The store is open from dawn until at least midnight.
SHACKLED BY BRACELETS
Perhaps the biggest problem for Greece’s “little guy,” the business owner trying to make a living as the nation’s economic and political uncertainty hang in the balance, is the “bracelet”: not the blue and white ones sold at souvenir shops on every street, but the ones issued by larger resort hotels, which import tourists by the dozen through travel agencies for an all-inclusive package.
“They go to the hotel and never leave,” said the mom of a mom-and-pop restaurant, well-known for its authentic home cooking. “They eat there, they buy gifts there, they don’t even go to the beach – they just swim in the hotel pool. That’s why the rest of us can’t make any money.”
This has been a problem for a few years now, “but this year it’s even worse,” she said. But why on earth would tourists forego the heralded beaches of Rhodes for a hotel swimming pool? “What can you say?” she shrugged. “But it’s early yet, so we hope for the best.”
Yet another hotelier described the situation of waking up with uncertainty, every day for five years, as “something you can never really understand unless you experience it. It has been going on for five years now, and we just don’t know if we’ll wake up and have money, or not.”
“I blame the government,” said the mom and pop proprietor – a slight variation of the classic rock publican’s theory. “The government tells the media here what to write, and they write all these scary stories about running out of money. Who would want to visit a country where the rumor is that the ATMs won’t have any money in them? Who would want to be stuck here with no way out?”