Greece is in huge trouble. Ultimately, tourism, the country’s most valuable economic sector, will disintegrate. A report from Irish Times lambasts Greece’s leadership for keeping one of the world’s most beloved republics in the Dark Ages. Here’s my take on Richard Pine’s scathing condemnation of the system of the Greeks.
Before I start, Pine is completely correct in his overall assessment that “Greece has no chance of becoming truly developed.” I’ve lived here in Crete for five years now, and doing business in Greece is, as I told a colleague recently, “like running a marathon in a swamp.” Most of the politicians, all the bureaucrats, and 99% of the big businesspersons are in zombie mode.
Here in Crete, a new idea or innovation dies a horrible death right after leaving the drawing board. Pine blames several factors, the most stunningly pitiful being the “resortification” scheme PM Mitsotakis is drumming out. All the stakeholders do the duck walk behind Mitsotakis, pretending, as Pine puts it, that this kind of strategy is a cure-all. It’s not. It’s a non-strategy. Just doing things as usual. All the buzz words are present. The trendy movements of the moment, but down here on the ground, the politicians just talk, pat each other on the back, and do photo ops. All of them.
The media can be blamed, to an extent. If publishers and advertisers are not part of the whole resortification debacle, then certainly the press departments sending them “numbers, numbers, numbers,” are. Headlines like “Greek Islands More Popular Than Ever; Tourist Numbers Exceed Pre-Covid Levels,” and Tourism Minister Vassilis Kikilias telling the Shengen Visa “Greece Expects 5.7 Million Travellers in the Second Half of This Year hide a commonly known fact. The Greeks are ruining places like Santorini with a flood of cruise ships and donkey-riding tourists. The concept of overtourism is best defined by the definition of:
“The impact of tourism on a destination, or parts thereof, that excessively influences perceived quality of life of citizens and quality of visitors experiences in a negative way.”
Politicians fund whole army of academics who study things like carrying capacity way too deep for this report. But the essence of overtourism is drop-dead simple. At a point, a destination is effectively ruined by bad planning, a lack of innovation, and greed. We’ve discussed the ruination of Greece many times here on Argophilia until we are as blue in the face as the lovely Aegean. The fact is, very few people in any position to do anything about the problem care. Santorini could sink beneath the waves like Atlantis as long as the big boys have flood insurance. But this is not just a Greek problem.
The Irish Times author points to so-called clientelism, which amounts to a buddy-buddy kind of bribery system here in Greece, as another facet of Greece’s “banana republic” status. The sorry state of education, politicians in the pockets of the wealthy, widespread poverty, and other factors simply make this cradle of western civilization stymied. Everyone I know here is trapped in a kind of sweet-smelling quicksand. While there are progressive trends taking shape in Greece, what we mostly see is the mutual gratification society of decision-makers slapping one another on the back.
The sweetness comes from crystal clear seas (still) and unimaginable history and tradition (what’s left of it). You’d have to live here to truly understand the concept of Filoxenia and to be astonished as one Cretan after another becomes that pissed-off Manhattan cabby. Crete’s most valuable commodity, her wonderfully giving people, will soon be more like the Ft. Lauderdale beer slut (sorry, a real term) delivering sandwiches and brews out of a golf cart on the links course.
Finally, Pine talks about the Greek sense of “filotimia” — or dignity, self-esteem, and honor, as being under siege by all this. I could not agree more. In the five years since we moved here I’ve watched as one after another friend, business associate, or neighbor has digressed into what amounts to hopelessness. The author of the Irish Times piece says the “homogenization and globalization” of their lives are the cause. And he’s 100% correct.
I cannot add to or subtract much from Pine’s arguments. He ends his report talking about Greece 50 years ago and how David Holden of the Sunday Times described the country as “rich in talent and poor in resources, developed in its tastes and underdeveloped in its capacities.” Like the author of “The Eye of the Xenos,” I believe that my Greek brothers and sisters deserve a lot better than their leadership has delivered.
As for tourism, especially here on Crete, you can expect more and more budget travelers, buffet lines, and the disappearance of any semblance of what the island once was. If Greece’s leaders could do it, they’d turn the Minoan Palace at Knossos into the centerpiece of a gigantic Hilton hotel. Sadly, most Crete entrepreneurs would welcome a Florida sinkhole if it padded their pockets. In Greece, there can be no progressive movement toward anything approaching sustainability. Investors are just not that far-sighted. They go with what works until it doesn’t work anymore. In 20 years, much of Crete will look like one of those abandoned Florida destinations on the Gulf Coast.