ATHENS – Tourism is the golden goose that could kill Greece – overtourism that spoils the reason why people visit – especially for the popular island of Corfu that is being developed, Irish writer Richard Pine – who lives in Greece – said he fears.
Writing in The Irish Times he noted how Greek governments are hell-bent on selling off land to developers, particularly on Corfu, where 5-Star hotels and luxury resorts scoop up prime land and beachfront for the rich.
At the same time, tourism – which accounts for as much as 25 percent of Greece’s annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 197.26 billion euros ($214.9 billion) – is being exploited so much that it threatens to bring financial ruin and not prosperity, he indicated.
While worried about Corfu and popular islands, he noted that once-shunned Athens, used as a jumping-off point, has become so trendy and with an attractive buzz that there’s been a 500 percent increase in recent years in short-term rentals such as Airbnb.
He said that was shown in a study that referred to “the maximum number that may visit a tourism destination without causing negative effects on the natural, economic and socio-cultural environment.”
He said: “In Athens, and in many other hotspots, that number has already been exceeded,” and even the government is worried that the infrastructure in some particularly popular islands can’t handle it as is trying to get tourists elsewhere.
He pointed to Corfu getting some 1.7 million tourists by air in 2022 as the government lifted COVID-19 pandemic health restrictions, not including tens of thousands pouring frequently off cruise ships.
“We are repeatedly told that lack of an overall co-ordinated plan will eventually destroy the very product which constitutes Greece’s single most valuable industry. Greece, once the starting-point for democracy and philosophy, is now merely a destination,” he said.
He said the warnings are being ignored “for the same reason that the natural beauties of the islands are being over-built: greed. Greek tourism is now the victim of its own success,” money being the only object.
Tourism on some islands is so lucrative that virtually everyone is working in some related business catering to foreign arrivals, especially Corfu as well as Mykonos and Santorini, he wrote, making them dependent on it.
“Without tourism, which contributes in excess of 25 percent of Gross Domestic Product, Greece would be dead economically. With tourism, it is in danger of social and cultural death. How is the quality of life of the people who live permanently in Greece to be protected and sustained if uncontrolled expansion of tourist numbers and tourist behaviour is encouraged?” he asked.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has gone full speed ahead with developments, drawing anger on Corfu about top spots being sold off to foreign companies whose resorts would cater to foreigners, not Greeks.
“Corfu, like Venice, is becoming an inhospitable place for its own people to live. In the village where I live, the two year-round tavernas have closed up for the winter, because passing trade has become more lucrative, and therefore more important, than local custom. The village is in danger of becoming a showpiece rather than a living organism,” he said.
He finished: “Soon, homogenization will transform Corfu, Santorini, Mykonos, even Athens, into mere destinations, indistinguishable to all but discerning visitors – themselves a dying breed,” and goodbye Greece.