All-inclusive disaster

Found in the ‘Letters to the editor’ of Athens News. It sums up the dangerous route that tourism is taking towards providing all-inclusive holidays.

As a British national and frequent visitor to Greece I read about the proposed changes to marketing Greece as a tourist destination with great interest. Perhaps the most notable development is the concentration of resources and effort under a single ministry.

However, there is a fundamental issue that needs to be addressed. I refer to the all-inclusive hotel trend that has developed over the past five or so years. On Rhodes, for example, whilst the Old Town is busy and clearly a desirable tourist destination, you only have to visit the resorts to see the impact of all-inclusive hotels on the tourism infrastructure.

Family-run taverns, small shops, car rental companies and others have disappeared over the course of the past five years. What had been a vibrant local economy has been transformed into a sad wasteland.

On Crete, an island I know well and spend several weeks on each year, the impact of the all-inclusive hotels is even more marked, a prime example being Kato Gouves on the north coast, where a handful of resorts cater for the bulk of the island’s tourists. The vast majority of the taverns, once busy and employing not only whole Greek families but other locals too, are gone. Gone too is the market for produce, affecting countless small farmers.

Yet, there are tourists, but they are swept past the struggling local businesses in air-conditioned luxury to be deposited at arranged destinations for photo opportunities, then back on the coaches to eat and drink in the hotels. In the evenings they may saunter past the empty taverns and bars, buy some trinkets from a shop, and then disappear back into the hotel.

No doubt deals have been done in the past for these hotels to secure the best locations, with sea views and an expanse of land surrounded by high walls to keep Greece out. Inside, the staff are rarely Greek. The ownership of the hotel usually belongs to an overseas multi-national company and profits are repatriated overseas. The produce is shipped in from the cheapest source and rarely sourced from Greece, let alone local producers.

The all-inclusive industry may have its place in tourism in places where crime or food safety may be an issue, but why so in Greece? It is clearly crippling the local economies of resorts across the country. It is difficult to see what they contribute beyond the fake “Greek Nights”, employment for coach drivers and tour operator reps.

As for the tourists themselves, what do they see of Greece? For all they know, they may as well be in Spain, Turkey or Portugal.

In the past a proportion of each euro spent in a resort would filter back into the local economy via wages to generate sales for other businesses, but income from tourism is now leaking out of Greece and only a tiny proportion gets into the local economy. Unemployment is rising and the desperation of the surviving businesses reliant on the tourist season is clearer than ever. They need to make sufficient money to see them through the winter months, pay their rents and increasing tax burdens.

Greece I fear has allowed itself to be fooled by the global tourism business.
Greece is a product they can sell. Counting the number of arrivals at airports as a means of gauging tourism success or failure, is no longer of any value to the thousands losing their businesses and livelihoods each season.

I urge the new ministry to look at this aspect of tourism before it is too late. Already, thousands of businesses have been lost and tens of thousands are without work. It may take a generation to reverse this, but Greece must begin now.

Jon Sutherland
Gorleston-on-Sea, Norfolk, UK

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