Crete officials are reportedly addressing the need for a closer partnership between all-inclusive hotels and resorts and local communities. At a recent working meeting held via an invitation of the Vice-Mayor Primary Manolis Chnaris of the Region of Crete, key decisionmakers worked on progressive movements in this direction. But the question arises; “Can Cretan cuisine and tradition be conveyed to tourists through all-inclusive buffet-style gastronomy?” The all-inclusive craze threatens every Cretan taverna and restaurant.
According to the news, the meeting was attended by the Vice-Chancellor Heraklion, Nikos Sirigonakis, President of the Agrarian Nutrition Partnership, Stavros Tzedakis, President of the Hellenic Federation of Hotel Managers, George Pelekanakis, and President of the Pancreatic Association of Hotel Managers.
The result of this meeting was supposed to be the establishment of a reaffirmed general framework for cooperation between the Region of Crete and the Agri-Food Partnership along with tourism agencies. The general goal of the meeting was to establish a common target for all is the promotion of Cretan nutrition and the interconnection of the tourism sector with the primary, through the expansion of the use of local products, at the buffet of All-Inclusive hotels. Interestingly, no tour agencies were mentioned alongside the hoteliers and the sole agriculture decisionmaker.
The report of the meetup speaks of the implemented through the certification of the Food and Agriculture Partnership under the brand “Cretan cuisine – Cretan flavors”, so that the quality, certified products of Crete, can be experienced by the millions of visitors to the island. But excuse me if I now fear the coming of certification for “authentic” Cretan buffet lines! Could this really be what these guys are talking about?
Despite the positive tone of the news, the idea of all-inclusive gastronomy and true Cretan culinary tradition seems mutually exclusive to anyone who understands Cretan culinary traditions. The Cretan diet and the ages-old food traditions of Crete are not just about cabbages and carrots grown near seaside resorts. While sustainable tourism is about local agriculture and green-practices, the idea that a hotel buffet can hope to replicate Cretan food and lifestyle traditions is ludicrous.
The Mediterranean diet has been recognized for decades now as a pillar of healthy living, and the Cretan diet is the basis of this healthy tradition. The expansion of the use of local products at all-inclusive resorts is only a tiny fragment of what should be a movement to create an experiential benchmark for Crete tourism. I hate to be overly critical here since these leaders clearly seem focused on advancing the discussion, but this news seems geared to make hoteliers feel good.
This is not progressive thinking. This is not thinking outside the box for advancing what Crete resorts and hotels have to offer. Buffet meals are cost-efficient, and that is all. The use of good products, the revenue slide to local farmers producing these goods, is nothing compared to the paradigm that needs to take place for Crete to become a truly sustainable destination. This news is about resort owners doing what they are already doing, and being headstrong about their current feeding methods, without really making a big commitment to further Crete overall.
The big picture seems to escape decisionmakers from Athens to Heraklion. There’s a demand for all-you-can-eat full-board resorts, of course, but sustainable destinations are about collective balance. What I mean is, the huge beach resort destroys the balance if there is not a greater offset. The village down the road suffers and loses when the traveler stays by the pool sucking down cheap drinks. There has to be some give and take, not only with local producers but with the traditional businesses and traditions that make Crete what it is.
The bottom line is, if resort owners are going to be hard-fast about monopolizing their guests like this, the rest of the community will need to curtail further all-inclusive resort development. The self-catering hotel and Airbnb etc. will have to grow in order that the correct balance is achieved. Crete’s limited resources exhausted by beach bars and buffets, golf courses and fast food joints, will utterly destroy the destination. And there it is.
The time for diplomacy on this subject is passed. None of the hoteliers I talk to seem to be interested in new ideas in the least. They’re horrified by the fear that TUI will suffer the same fate as Thomas Cook, but not one has (so far) take a half step to create a more sustainable offering. Tourists to Crete this season can expect their big plate full of institutional souvlaki and steam table mousaka. Eating like the Cretans DON’T will be on tap again this year. And as for local products being used, only the dumbest bean counter on Earth would import Horta from Spain and fish from China to serve guests. Crete’s an island, where else will resort chefs take their produce from? Come on.
When will Crete decisionmakers call a meeting with experts on sustainability? Or, will the hoteliers keep gathering at the round table to shake their heads about what already is? Please, please, please, can we suggest the Crete resort owners read who Ancel Keys was? Can we really show off what makes this island so special, and stop pretending hospital food served near a beach is Cretan cuisine? Seriously.
Image credit: Feature image courtesy Vera Potzi in Ierapetra