The continuous growth of tourism in Crete and the rest of Greece in the 1980s and 90s was driven by the fact that Greece was a cheap holiday destination. As Greece got wealthier prices rose and by the time the Euro came into existence it had lost its price advantage to places like Turkey and “new” holiday destinations in eastern Europe and growth either slowed, stopped and for some places turned into decline. The people looking for cheap were looking elsewhere.
I have been saying for a little over 10 years that tourism in Greece needs to reinvent itself. My thinking was that if Greece can’t sell “cheap” any more it had to increase quality and provide better service to match higher prices. More importantly it needs to make use and develop what is attractive about the place apart and away from cheap prices. There is a huge potential in activity holidays (walking, sea sports, botanical tours, culture) as well as the whole culinary side (you don’t even need to market it! The Cretan diet is already a well-known brand!).
Crete is THE perfect place for agrotourism and community based tourism. There are more and more initiatives by individuals and small businesses and there is a huge potential for growth to attract discerning visitors.
What I had not expected was that “cheap” could reinvent itself in the form of “all-inclusive” packages that are becoming hugely popular with tourists who are looking for a sun & sea holiday for the lowest possible cost. They are not interested in where they go, they don’t want to get to know other cultures so they could not care less where they are as long as the sun, warm weather and sea are there (and maybe a pool and cheap or free booze).
I see it a little as the tourism equivalent of fast-food vs home-cooked dishes or gastronomy.
This is not due to a conspiracy by tour operators to kill small family businesses. Tour operators respond to what people want and the increase in people wanting all-inclusive has prompted them to offer it more and more.
It is undeniable that the growth of all-inclusive holidays has many negative effects (the comments section of that link also makes an interesting read) but I don’t see it as all negative.
In defence of all-inclusive resorts we need to consider that:
Obviously the shift in markets is damaging for many businesses and it is hard for these people but they are being caught in the location shifts of specific markets – a little like grocery shops which were decimated by the emergence of supermarkets or small retail stores driven to bankruptcy by online shopping.
Legislation against all-inclusive holidays will do nothing positive. There is already far too much legislation in Greece. If you make life hard for this market they will just go somewhere else. After all Turkey next door offers plenty of them.
In my view the best answer is to concentrate on making the more individual and higher quality markets better known and accessible so that they become an attractive holiday option for more and more holiday makers. People who look for quality will quickly move away from AI because cost-cutting cannot sustain quality.
It is time for the people affected by the emergence of all-inclusive holidays to act with creativity and flexibility and maybe become the ones who create these new alternatives.