Maybe, just maybe, 2020 will be the year Greece sets sail for a sustainable economy and future. Recent comments from the Next is Now tourism forum in Athens, by Tourism Minister Harry Theoharis tell us the ministry is paying attention. If there’s one country in Eastern Europe that really can innovate and lead a sustainable tourism effort, Greece is that country.
Whether or not Minister Theoharis is just paying lip service to the growing concerns for his country’s sustainable tourism path, will only become evident in the actions of the months to come. A move away from mass tourism model, and toward a solution that is more human-centered would certainly be a huge step. This is, in fact, just what Mr. Theoharis told people at the Next event. And while pleasing everybody is going to be a tough course for the Greek administrators to maintain, it is obviously the only right way.
Theoharis also said the government would stand behind hoteliers to cross the hurdles ahead. And it is the hoteliers who must revamp their ideas on what is truly sustainable. Regulating and posturing to keep the status quo is going to lead nowhere. Those who believe Greece can be another “Florida” are living in a bubble. Attracting people to live in Greece in the same way Florida attracted residents is one thing. Building seaside high-rise or all-inclusive on every beach is another. Earth cannot simply be a resource to be consumed and abused any longer. Nowhere is sustainable future practice more important than in Greece. This is mainly true because of the massive potential the country has.
Greece’s Deputy Tourism Minister Manos Konsolas presented the ministry’s plans to develop thematic and alternative forms of tourism at the same conference. According to the news, the goal is to enhance the country’s competitiveness, attract high-income visitors, open to new markets and target new ones, extend the season, boost sustainable development, create new businesses and increase employment. Then again, Greek tourism’s “elites” gathered in 2018 to address similar issues at the same conference. Sorry, but skepticism is necessary until Harry Theoharis can show the tourism ship headed in the right direction.
Looking at the panel discussions and the stakeholders from Next is Now does not give me great confidence in Mr. Theoharis’ statements. Fraport and talks on port infrastructures seem aimed at boosting cruise tourism, which will in NO WAY benefit locals and the sustainability effort. I’ve discussed this before. Putting GuestFlip reputation/review management on a panel labeled “Innovation & Technology in the context of tourism development” is not exactly reinventing Greece’s tourism trend either. This seems more like Harry Theoharis and the ministry is aiming to help hotels boost the value they already present??? Sorry, but this section of the event looks like a hack-up of people who paid to insert their startups/technology into the Greece matrix. I’m surprised Messinia’s Costa Navarino people weren’t there talking about eco-friendly golf tournaments and billion euro expansion.
The forum just had too many people who are pushing the whole privatization process for me to take these announcements seriously. For instance, Constantine Michalos, President of the ACCI, is a proponent of privatizing Greece’s transportation infrastructure (Forbes 2017). Alexandros Vassilikos, who’s head of the Hellenic Chamber of Hotels (HCH), is keenly focused on eliminating any competition from Airbnb and other short term rental entrepreneurship. Vassilikos is an extremely smart and successful hotelier, but like so many in Greece, he’s just not thinking outside the box. Hotel growth just has to go hand in hand with more sustainable and valuable forms of hospitality. Eurobank was also represented, which reminds me of their list of privatizations of profitable Greek enterprises 2011-2018.
I don’t want to get into a deep-dive on privatizations that have taken away from a sustainable Greece future. Looking at some of these privatization sales though, it’s tough not to wonder at how the Greek people are benefitting. Take, for instance, the recent deal for 19 acres of prime Corfu land and unique Castello Bibelli. The castle itself is over 2,000 square meters not including the outbuildings. Situated in a prime location at Dasias beach, it seems to me, that the place is worth more than €1.6 million for a 99-year lease. One can only hope that Bluehouse Capital and Fais don’t turn it into a designer outlet mall. (Hate me, go ahead)
It’s clear Minister Harry Theoharis has adjusted his narrative to come in line with the sustainable trend. Whether or not this is a true course change remains to be seen. The ministry’s advisers and the concrete moves of decision-makers don’t seem to be steering a true course. Potent voices for a more progressive direction are missing if we are honest here. Environmental groups are absent, Airbnb and HomeAway have no voice in matters, and there are too many stoic figureheads and irrelevant participants present. I, for one, would be thrilled to see a forum take shape to address divergent sides and ideas. Maybe this is the tourism minister’s next move. I’ll look for it on the calendars. Until then, we’ll be watching for the prow of the GNTO or the new administration to plow sustainable waters.