January 2005, five researchers at the University of the Aegean published (PDF)“Sustainability measurement in islands: The case of South Aegean islands, Greece.” Today, as we look at their observations over a decade ago, and question the progress that has been made to safeguard Greece’s islands for her people, and for posterity. The methods used so far for determining how we measure sustainable tourism may help us understand Greece’s “Mickey Mouse” tourism policies.
In the introduction researchers; professors Ioannis Spilanis, Thanasis Kizos, Hristos Vakoufaris of the Ministry of Rural Development and Food, Maria Koulouri, and Julia Kondili wrote :
“Although sustainable development is usually defined in an abstract way, most researchers agree that it combines the so-called ‘three dimensions’: economic development, social equity, and environmental conservation. These dimensions are not always compatible.”
So, as far back as 2005, the policymakers and the research that supposedly led them
Fast forward to 2018, when we discover big business and government still describing what’s “sustainable” using abstract marketing and PR promotion. As for the “three dimensions,” the last decade has only been about economics. Social equity, as we all know, does not exist in Greece. And as for environmental conservation, here on Crete
These last couple of weeks I’ve been engaged in researching and reporting on sustainable tourism in Greece, with a focus on our home island of Crete. In the previous reports I focused on the German travel conglomerate TUI, but their virtual monopoly play on Crete and overall, it’s on a part of the overall unsustainable “economics” theater. A story I read at Greek Reporter this morning got me thinking again, on how the people can start to better understand the importance of creating a sustainable future, not just in Greece, but everywhere. Greece being a perfect example of a country with “special” tourism facets, the story entitled “Why Santorini Urgently Needs a Sustainable Tourism Plan,” provided me with my answer. That is, “What is true for Santorini, is also true for all the islands of the Aegean and wider Mediterranean.”
The following is a quote from a report by Michael Ermogenis, who’s a consultant to the Santorini Chamber of Commerce, and a founding member of “Save Oia” Campaign:
“In Santorini, tourism’s economic contribution to GDP is likely in excess of 90 percent. So in following from the previous statement about the importance of tourism to the Greek economy being ‘vital’, logic tells us that the tourism sector is the very oxygen, the lifeline on which Santorini almost totally relies on for its existence.”
Ermogenis goes on to portray (correctly) how the government should be addressing travel and sustainable tourism, and the reality he refers to in his comparison of a finely tuned Swiss watch (how the government says it’s working) and, and I cite him again:
“Alas, in reality it is more like a plastic Mickey Mouse watch.”
The consultant goes on to ask the right questions about the government’s lack of vision and steering a tourist destination second only to Athens’ Acropolis in notoriety. Personally, I am glad I am not the only one asking such questions because the way travel and tourism on Crete is handled, I fully expect Mickey, Minnie, Donald Duck, and Pluto to pop us as leadership over the Chania Prefectorate, Rethymno region, it’s Heraklion neighbor, and Lassithi to the far east. If TUI and other mega-conglomerates are Norsemen urging their longships toward Crete, then Greece’s politicians are the sirens and nymphs beckoning them. Excuse the metaphors, but the lack of foresight here is epic like Troy. Ermogenis and I are not the only ones thinking Greek’s officials are watching too much Looney Tunes. This report by Green European Journal we find:
“The strategy of the Tourism Ministry nourishes the same model. In a law voted by the Greek Parliament in June 2013, the ministry promotes large holiday compounds all over the country, even within ecologically sensitive areas, many of which are protected under national and EU legislation.”
The magazine goes on to say “A new ecologically and financially viable tourism model needs to constitute a dynamic part of the Greek economy, without degrading the capital it is based on,
If we look at this “three pillars” approach to sustainability, we find the method has origins in Brussels and with the EU itself. Furthermore, if we examine how the EU set up measuring for “sustainability” we find the process was built to be an international model, and not tailored to local peculiarities. Case in point, the economical, social, and environmental approaches used by officials today. I’ll not linger here over the fact that business nor science can be completed without proper measurement.
The authors of the 2005 paper iterate about the way the program ISTOS (Innovation for sustainable tourism and services in the South Aegean) set up a DPSR framework to separate causes (driving forces) from pressures and factors that
Unfortunately, the study of the ISTOS research will inextricably lead us to false conclusions. The study was flawed from the start when the case studies used were limited to the island of Kos and Paros were selected from among the many. Additionally, gathering evidence from within the silo of Local Agenda 21 participants, with no outside control, does not remind me of a high school experiment. The problem here is that each individual island has dependent and independent variables that sway localized results. Add tot his that policy is being made with an international model, and you can see how still more problems are created. Not only do we have ultra powerful drivers in place, but decisionmaking is also too far removed from each local need.
As I said earlier, this 2005 research was doomed from the start. It was doomed because the researchers were “led” to determine the best outcomes without all the evidence. The University of the Aegean was assigned to
study something known as Local Agenda 21, which is supposed to be
a local-government-led, community-wide, and participatory effort. But, the case study selection was only between islands that showed an interest in LA21, so the scientists were facetious studying evidence that jumped in their faces. Talk about flawed methodology. Determining how to run a Swiss watch by engaging enthusiastic Goofys from local offices – no wonder Greece is messed up.
Researchers creating a measurement method from a university that is itself unsustainable, and one funded by a government that has proven unsustainable comes as no surprise to me. Reading the growth philosophy of the University of the Aegean, we see the facetious problem of growth capitalism rear its ugly head. And I quote for once from Wikipedia:
“The university today comprises five Schools and 18 Departments offering undergraduate and post-graduate degrees programmes. This growth was based on the administration’s belief that its sustainability could only be based on its potential to grow into a substantially large institute, initially in department numbers supporting its educational side and secondly in postgraduate courses in support of its research nature.”
Extrapolating here, it seems to me the island of Crete and other Aegean home places can only be sustained in perpetuity by tectonic plate movement that makes them more and more enormous. Crete must grow to look like the island of Manhattan, in order that villagers in Lassithi and in the White Mountains can grow sheep and olives. Knossos will need to be in a kind of new Central Park. My friends in the Amari Valley in Rethymno will have water slides and theme parks revolving around wine tasting in order that the government’s view of sustainability can thrive. Beyond my disdain here, I’m not just on a rant against the policies of Athens or conglomerates like TUI. The Dr. Ioannis Pappas and the editorial board at Place Bran Observer points out where most of the tourism revenue in Greece is centralized, and how those places exhibit markedly unsustainable features:
“Most of this income comes from the Cyclades & Dodecanese Islands, Crete Island, Chalcidice
andthe Ionian Islands. However, for those who have been to one of these islands during high season, it is visible that these levels of tourism cannot be sustained with the infrastructure currently in place. It is just not sustainable.”
Finally, Local 21 was an offshoot of the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio. Twenty-six years later and the UN still lauds Local 21 as “the path” – when clearly our road toward humanity surviving is anything but well lit. The UN has now amended Agenda 21 with the Agenda 2030 guideposts. I find it interesting, ironic, and wonderful if sincere, that TUI is one of this biggest supporter of Agenda 2030, the next phase of Agenda 21. I guess we can expect sustainable Greece and Crete to “GROW” according to their economics, and
My point is, we need an entirely new method of identifying problems, methods for addressing them, new and correct methods for measuring our progress, and a total balance in between the “three dimensions,” if these are the main facets of a sustainable tourism future.