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Worry Too Many Tourists Trampling Greece’s Archeological Sites

many tourists are still pouring into the country that it’s building up state coffers and could bring in as much as 20 billion euros ($20.73 billion) during the waning COVID-19 pandemic.

The bad news is that there’s so many that ancient archaeological sites, including the Acropolis, are so overrun that it’s bringing worry that they are at risk of being damaged and ruining millennia-old features.

In a report, the British newspaper The Guardian noted the dilemma, with Tourism Minister Vassilis Kikilias saying, “it’s almost December and the season is still going, which is exactly what we want – to extend it, bit by bit.”

The New Democracy government wants tourists to come year round and is adding different attractions for them, ranging from golf to sports and medical, and is also urging them to visit less popular areas around the country.

There is likely to be more than 30 million tourists this year – almost three times the country’s population – falling a little short of the 33 million in the record year 2019 before the coronavirus hit.

The government is welcoming them with open arms despite criticism it’s doing it for the money and doesn’t care about the future of the ancient sites as long as they keep coming and spending.

During the peak summer period, about 16,000 vacationers each day were ascending the famed Acropolis to see the Parthenon and more criticism was heaped on the government for paving over part of the landscape to attract and accommodate even more, changing its character.

During nearly two years of pandemic lockdowns and slowdowns that brought international air traffic to a near-standstill and emptied tourism and archaeological sites there was fear they wouldn’t come back.

Now, some shop owners in the tourist area of the Plaka near the Acropolis want them to go home, worn out by trying to keep up with them even as they picked up souvenirs like candy out of bowl.

Anna Simou, who works in a contemporary Greek design store in the district told the newspaper that, “we’re all exhausted and that’s with management employing new staff.”

Athens Mayor Kostas Bakoyannis said the tourists have put such a strain on the city’s resources that there should be a small daily tax they pay to help deal with it, noting that more than 7 million will have visited the city this year.

THE WARNING SIGNS

“It’s unfair that 650,000 permanent residents in the heart of ancient Athens should foot the bill,” Bakoyannis said. “If we want to sustain the city we need to adapt in the way that almost every other European capital has, and introduce a city tax on visitors,” he added.

With Russian airlines barred under European Union sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine, Americans have been leading the charge this year and they are coveted as ‘big spenders’ eager to travel again.

There was such demand from the United States that more direct flights were added – 63 a week – as airlines competed for them, also driving up prices for seats in the rush to get to Greece.

The country was the world’s third most favored destination in 2022, the report added, and tourism is its biggest revenue engine, bringing in as much as 25 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 208.38 billion euros ($216.2 billion) annually, and employs nearly a million people.

But most, besides discovering Athens, head straight to the same spots: the islands of Santorini, Mykonos, Corfu, Rhodes, and a few others, while bypassing those which offer a real Greek experience without crowds.

The overtourism is taxing the infrastructure of those popular spots as well as 18 UNESCO World Heritage sites being trampled under the feet of the foreigners who keep coming in a relentless cavalcade.

“Red lights are flashing,” Peter DeBrine, UNESCO’s leading tourism adviser told the paper’s Athens correspondent Helena Smith.“ We have to start asking how much is too much and 16,000 visitors clogging a monument like the Acropolis every day sounds like way too much… We have gone from overtourism to revenge tourism with the same net effect,” he told the Guardian about the danger of having too many tourists and that a balance is needed between revenues and conservation.

“What is needed is a radically different approach which starts with consumers but extends to tourism and heritage management. It’s clear that authorities have to take measures to relieve overcrowding at world heritage sites if the tourism experience isn’t to be degraded and conservation ensured,” he said, adding that, “we realize tourism is the lifeblood for so many communities and vital to local economies but overtourism is a real danger. Either you’re clever and you take measures or you kill the goose that lays the golden egg.”

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