My friends and family living in Greece are suffering economic woes that are bringing them to their knees, but in the same breath they say: “Come to Greece for a holiday. It’s still gorgeous!” The euro crisis has put many tourists off, but Greece is still functioning and welcoming visitors, although the economic hardships can’t be ignored.
Australian friends who just returned from a vacation were ecstatic about their Greek island experience – the food, the sun, the views and the quality of their accommodation – and also said Santorini wasn’t crowded at all.
My friend Linda Psillakis who lives in Crete is a vocal supporter of Greek tourism – and she’s fuming about the gun violence in her native United States. She urges Americans to come back, because it’s safer in Greece.
“So many Americans are afraid to visit Greece and Egypt and other countries in Europe? I just read that every year, about 100,000 Americans are victims of gun violence, with people entering our schools, our workplaces, our leisure gathering spots and open fire on innocent bystanders. Frankly, we’re much safer than you are, even during the violent Occupy demonstrations in big cities that are so well covered in the US news reports. I hope you’ll look at the statistics, my American friends, and make your own decisions – instead of being led into ABSURD FEARS by the media.”
Linda is also a photographer, she supplied the top two pictures for this post, and through her work she hopes to bring more tourism back to her beloved Crete. Go visit her website: www.linda.gr
The Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises says this summer’s tourist season could be down by 15 per cent on last year. One in five Greeks work in the tourism sector. Others say there’s a different kind of tourist blowing through Greece now – ones that don’t take their time. Many come on the cruise ships, snap the pictures, grab a souvenir and get back on board. They don’t or won’t take the time to travel further.
Our foodie writer on the Greek island of Rhodes, Georgia Gerardis, agrees. “They don’t get the chance to visit and feel the Greek spirit which can only be sensed in villages. They only get to see the Greek ‘show’ which could easily be seen back at home if well set.”
There’s also a strong feeling that it’s time to rethink tourism, get back to basics and attract people who will take their time and hang around for more than a week on a beach. They used to. Greece got fat on a big tourist trade, but perhaps the authentic Greek experience dimmed in among the beach umbrellas, cappuccino culture and airbrushed postcards. And more importantly – stiff competition from Spain and increasingly, Turkey.
Georgia’s suggestion: “What I would like to see is visitors to be given the option to roam free in remote villages or be given the chance to experience local activities such as carpet making, cooking, dancing, grape stomping or anything the place is famous for. These programmes could be sold on board.”‘
Georgia and her husband Anthony run Ammoyiali, the best restaurant on Rhodes, but because it’s not right under the noses of cruise ship tourists, they’re missing out on valuable business.
And with much of the developed world in recession, with a growing number of British and European holidaymakers unable to go the places they traditionally did with alacrity, tourist markets in the developing world such as China and India are firmly in focus. Tourism Australia launched its latest campaign in China to pitch to the growing Chinese middle class, with an eye on India, Indonesia and Malaysia.
Ian Jack of The Guardian sums it up well: “Greece intended to build its economy on people like us: sun-seeking tourists from northern Europe and North America, rich enough to spend two or three weeks every year in a hotel or a rented villa, to hire a car, to eat in tavernas and buy wine and peaches in the local mini-market.”
Apartments and villas now “stand half-finished, concrete frames sprouting rusty reinforcing rods, among unkempt olive groves… Turning the rich of China and India into Hellenists and sunbathers may be the only way to finish and fill them, now that Europe is over the summit of its prosperity.” He did, by the way, have a happy holiday on the island of Kefalonia.
I lived in Greece for a decade. Yes, the euro crisis and Greece’s imploding economy worries me deeply. I can’t imagine how my loved ones will get through another year of this austerity. But it doesn’t stop me from going. It’s not pity tourism, it’s because Greece still has a lot to offer. My half-Greek daughters also travel back to the land of their birth for hedonistic vacations – Greece is still the ace place for bold and beautiful young people – and are loathe to leave. No cruise stopovers for them. They get out and explore. Big time.
What do you think?