An agreement signed on Monday between the Greek Tourism Ministry, the Hellenic Chamber of Hotels, and the newly established non-profit company “Hotels For” is supposed to strengthen the Greece tourism product. The question is, “Is this just another hollow initiative aimed at pseudo-sustainability?” In Greece, the leadership is looking the wrong way in order to find a new sustainable path. Here’s the story.
According to the news from GTP, the agreement aims to safeguard and promote the tourism product in Greece and abroad through the upgrade of Greek hotels and their best practices regarding sustainable development and corporate social responsibility (CSR).
“Hotels For”, for those unfamiliar, is a hospitality sector social responsibility initiative billed as a support mechanism for promoting sustainable development. The narrative of this new cooperation says the agreement will “strengthen tourism activities by creating the necessary conditions.” Greece’s Tourism Minister Harry Theoharis is quoted saying:
“The Ministry of Tourism is launching a different kind of cooperation with hoteliers. This cooperation, taking place during a key period, will allow the forces of tourism to unite so that the goals of sustainable tourism development and accessible tourism are transformed from a simple ‘wish list’ into a tangible strategy implemented through a series of actions“.
Furthermore, the Hellenic Chamber of Hotels’ President Alexandros Vassilikos said the signing of the cooperation protocol between the tourism ministry, the chamber, and “Hotels For” starts a new chapter in the contribution of the hospitality industry to Greek society.
According to the signed cooperation protocol, the ministry, the hotels chamber, and “Hotels For” will do things like share experience and info, evaluate member hotel performance, examine collaborative potential, launch joint actions, encourage education and training, and go to big meetings around the world. Excuse me, but this new “Hotels For” initiative seems a lot like the “old chapter” of the Greek hospitality story. In other words, this is a PR campaign to brand Greek tourism and hotels, so that they can go forward with business as usual.
I took a brief look at what Alexandros Vassilikos, who’s the owner of Airotel Group of Hotels, has been up to lately and found this post on PhocusWire entitled (interestingly) “The future always belongs to the leaders who shape it”. While I am not sure if Mr. Vassilikos really meant he wants to own the future of hospitality in Greece, I cannot help but wonder who wrote the title to his piece about the upcoming International Hospitality Forum? For PhocusWire’s part, I know that commercial sponsorships allow industry experts to say their piece there, but taking over the future?
I’m feeling influenced, sorry to say since the famous hotel owner chose to use a photo of Santorini, perhaps the most unsustainable island in all Greece for his story. I won’t get into the who, what, and how of the upcoming conference, but from the lineup, it looks like a bunch of hotel, hospitality, and marketing execs in panel discussions with a couple of mid-level sustainability people. As for Vassilikos, he’s one of the most prominent hotel owners in Greece, but he is also an economist and an expert in finance, not a sustainability professor. His role should be to listen to the experts, and figure out how to get hoteliers to implement and adjust.
To conclude, Greece’s Tourism Ministry, the Hellenic Chamber of Hotels, and “Hotels For” are setting out to immediately appoint a committee to monitor any agreed action plan and to coordinate actions when necessary in the various fields of cooperation. Let me address this by showing you what Harry Theoharis’ idea of sustainable Greece and an improved tourism product is.
Another story on GTP a few days ago reveals Theoharis bragging again about Greece’s COVID first wave response, at the same moment the country is locked down because of a second wave. To add insult to injury, for anyone with a brain, Theoharis’ new cooperation on cruise tourism with Egypt and Cyprus, is another echoes of his real strategy, to drive as many tourists to Greece via sea, land, and air as is humanly possible.
Here’s the deal. Recent surveys conducted in Greece reveal that 90% of Greeks believe that after the pandemic we should do more for the protection of the planet and recycling. I could cite 100 sources revealing the concerns of Greek people for their homeland and their future, but to save time let me point out Theoharis’ ideas on the subject of sustainable tourism. This report cites Theoharis saying he is worried about upsetting the “local populations” with new sustainability practices! Excuse me, but the locals in villages here on Crete know full well the negative effects of gigantic all-inclusive resorts near them. The big money is in volume, and the volume is what has been sustaining these resorts.
This writer is worried that Greece is turning into a hotel business instead of a country where everywhere who lives here benefits from wide-sweeping decisions made in Athens. My worry is that this new “Hotels For” scheme to be financed exclusively by the Hellenic Chamber of Hotels and established through legislation drawn up by the Tourism Ministry, may end up with the private sector telling the government of the people what is the law.
The long and short of this is, Theoharis and the Mitsotakis administration are putting the foxes in charge of the henhouse where sustainable tourism is concerned. Hoteliers are interested in one thing, and one thing only, profit. And in Greece, not one hotelier I can name is forward-thinking enough to charge more for his rooms, so that he or she can be truly sustainable. The next conference on sustainability should be led by environmental experts, engineers, and urban geography scientists, working to develop strategies to help hoteliers do what they must do, not the other way around.