Greek Tourism Minister Harry Theoharis says Greece is expected to break even greater records in tourism during 2020. Speaking at the World Travel Market (WTM) 2019 expo on Monday, Minister Theoharis Greece “will win” against all competition. However, some may question the “how” of the Greek administration’s plans, not to mention the long term effects. Is the Greek Tourism Ministry into just another tourism marketing scheme?
During a press conference at this year’s WTM, the minister said that arrival numbers this year are showing a three percent increase, compared to 2018. He also told the press: “With hard work and public-private partnerships, tourism in 2020 will break even more records in both quality and quantity.”
But, even though the tourism minister speaks of “quality, sustainability, and the authenticity” powering the Greek tourism product, there’s just not a lot of evidence that the new administration is doing everything it can to create truly sustainable tourism.
Theoharis and others in high positions here in Greece make statements like; “Greece has nothing to fear from the competition,” but the country’s real challenge is not about beating Turkey or Egypt to attract more travelers. Theoharis’ words focus too much on “product” and not nearly enough on the “balance” needed for Greece to thrive. A case in point comes to mind.
Some weeks back I covered the dire sustainability situation for the island of Santorini for Greek Reporter. In that story, I showed how excess tourism threatens to destroy what is a truly marvelous cultural and adventure experience. In this report, one of sustainable tourism’s most learned experts, Dr. Godfrey Baldacchino, the UNESCO co-Chair in Island Studies & Sustainability framed the disaster that threatens not just Santorini, but all the Greek isles.
Some days later an idiotic but revealing comment by a Greek official prompted me to write this apocalyptic story about Greece should she decide to become Florida. This was at the Greek Tourism Confederation (SETE) conference “Redefining Realities: #someREACTdifferent,” which I assessed as an attempt to #hashtag sustainability into being. Then a few days later we ran a story about Minister Theoharis visiting Santorini and proclaiming the new administration’s determination to save the island.
When this load of public relations hyperbole came out, I contacted again the learned sustainability expert, Dr. Baldacchino to see if SETE or Greece’s tourism ministry had contacted him as a “stakeholder” in the whole sustainability issue for Greece. Here’s how that exchange went. I asked Baldacchino whether or not the “concerned” Greek politicians and tourism professionals had contacted him. “Did these guys consult you AT ALL?” I asked. And here is what one of the world’s foremost and most respected island sustainability experts had to say:
“The short and simple answer is, no.”
And now the GREAT BIG WTM in London demands that Greek tourism officials sound like marketing geniuses and sales professionals. So, how can we assume anything but the obvious here? Greece’s Tourism Minister, all the parties that have been put into play promoting Greek tourism, they’re only interested in hearing what they want to hear. This is surely, “Full steam ahead, and damn the torpedoes. There’s revenue to be had.” Sustainability, as has always been the case, is only buzzword and a third priority behind getting the money.
The GNTO is hosting some 70 Greek exhibitors, including representatives of hotels, regions and travel companies from across the country and its islands. And each and every one of those exhibitors is less interested in the Greece of tomorrow than they are of profits in the near term. The leadership in Athens has employed some of the top tourism marketing experts, but to my knowledge island sustainability geniuses are in short supply at the GNTO and elsewhere in the Greek tourism scheme.
Finally, if you read the EBRD-backed Destination Management Plan the Greek tourism ministry and their marketers are engaged in, you won’t be enthralled by their sustainability science. This (PDF) Chania workshop report talks more about hotel GRI and competitor analysis than it does about regulating the number of feet trampling the Minoan Palace at Knossos.
This pie in the sky initiative asks media experts and industry savvy operators to believe the Greece Tourism Ministry and other decisionmakers are willing to monitor social media to determine part of a course of action. In fairness, the Chania meetup was just about “developing” a plan of action. But the PR fluff from the GNTO and other decisionmakers would have us believe gigantic steps had already been made. Bottom line, there is no plan. We have a plan in the making. And if I am right, it will be a perpetual plan in the making. This is a marketing survey and a marketing plan, end of the story.
Somebody out there prove me wrong, please.