The Greek Tourism Ministry and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) just announced increased cooperation for developing best practices for optimizing Greece’s booming tourism. The question arises, however, as to whether or not Greek stakeholders who are line up alongside international tourism brands have the right focus. Here’s a look at what government and business have trained their sights on, and at important facets of sustainable tourism in Greece.
According to the news from GTP, this new agreement came during a recent meeting in between Greek Tourism Minister Elena Kountoura and OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurriaat the OECD headquarters in Paris. At the meeting, the OECD official praised the effectiveness of Kountoura’s ministry’s efforts that are focused on sustainable tourism for Greece as a year-round destination.
With sustainability having a big focus here on Crete, it seems appropriate here to make a couple of observations. First and foremost, despite the fact that Crete is the preferred destination for western Europeans, businesses here still suffer on account of low revenues. Secondly, there’s a sense here that big concerns have coerced their way into having an unbalanced influence on people’s and institutions’ understanding of what sustainability really entails.
A case of news that may be misleading is one where the tourism ministry announced that Secretary-General for Tourism Policy and Development George Tziallas will represent Greece at OECD’s 102nd high-level tourism committee meeting that will take place October 30-31 in Paris. For those who do not know, OECD is an intergovernmental economic organization with 36 member countries, founded in 1961 to stimulate economic progress and world trade.
The organization grew out of the Organization for European Economic Co-operation (OEEC), which was created to help administer the Marshall Plan, which funneled US dollars into Europe in order to gain access, influence, and control, rather than , . But this is another point of research. The European Union itself arose from these organizations founded mostly by the banking elites. What’s significant about OECD for my argument is illustrated in a meetup in between Angel Gurría, Secretary-General of the OECD, and Greece’s PR Alexis Tsipras, in Athens earlier this year to talk about Greece’s “recovery.” The short version here is, Gurría is basically the cheerleader of the IMF and the World Bank, the entities that along with Germany slammed Greece’s people to the pavement in the first place.
Returning for the moment to Tziallis, news in September talked about efforts to strengthen cruise travel to Greece and promote new destinations.
Tziallas met with sector decision-makers at the 12th Seatrade Cruise Med held recently in Lisbon, Portugal. During this event, Tziallis held meetings with the head of CLIA Europe and of the International Cruise Union Kyriakos Anastasiades, the managing director of TUI Cruises Wybcke Meier, the managing director of MSC Cruises Gianni Onorato and the chief of MedCruise, Airam Diaz Pastor. This brings me to a pointed observation.
I’ve not been able to learn about which new destinations Tziallis and other officials are discussing but reading about boosting home porting and promoting new onboard thematic experiences makes me wonder if the cruises even need to travel to Greece in the first place. If cruise lines are going to manufacture the whole Crete (for example) experience for their passengers, what’s going to happen to the taverna owner in the wilds of the south of this island? From what I can gather from Greek news about
The fact is, high seasonality and low daily expenditure are murdering Greek business. The lost opportunities caused by big companies leveraging Greece’s economic situation appear to be creating a very dangerous domino effect. I’ll have more on this in a later report, but readers may want to read this National Bank of Greece study (PDF) on these subjects. Bottom line, both the average daily expenditure and the length of stay of tourist arriving in Greece have nosedived in the last few years despite increased arrivals. This can mean only one thing.
Of course, Airbnb factors into some of this as we find that length of stay has hit hotels hardest, with non-hotel stays remaining constant. (see chart above and below) An important bit of data in this report is the fact that small and medium-sized hotels are losing high-income guests, which are being replaced by middle-class travelers. Also, the room price for small hotels seems to have plummeted from an average of €112 euro per night to right around €100 euro as of 2016, while dynamic hotels’ room rates have skyrocketed to over €127 euro per night from €102.
What I am driving at is that the Greek government and those backing the Tsipras play from other nations are not building anything like a sustainable future.
My problem with these institutions, be they NGOs, international financial entities, or corporate role players, is that they operate in they are overlooking crucial data that could lead to truly sustainable tourism. A case in point is this whole “cruise ship” initiative, and the fact that there’s no long-term thinking involved. At least not so a cursory look could discern. For me, the meetings and announcements are all about brands and positive potential, and this is not a good sign. The research (PDF) contained in “The Environmental, Social and Economic Impacts of Cruising and Corporate Sustainability Strategies,” by Peter Jones, David Hillier, and Daphne Comfort from 2016 offers supporting evidence for my contentions. At one point the authors cite Jeb Sprague at 21st Century Global Dynamics of UC Santa Barbara in 2014, who contended that:
“The cruise ship industry has become adept at repatriating more and more value from passenger spending, while at the same time maintaining a web of local and regional alliances that benefit from the industry.’ Further, Sprague (2014, webpage) argued that ‘the major companies in the cruise industry have come to embody what it means to be transnational -circumventing borders and manipulating local economies in order to enrich the very few and sell exotic experiences to privileged sectors while at the same time generating very little benefit for those they exploit to achieve these ends.”
Sprague goes on to validate my concerns over the GNTO’s moves to expand port facilities for larger cruise ships. The author discusses how these international conglomerates take advantage of labor, and how the trend is to create mega-vessels carrying thousands to cut costs even further. Readers with an interest in “real” sustainability versus corporate growth at any cost will be well served reading Sprague’s report here. As for my report, I believe I’ve presented enough evidence for stakeholders in Greece to begin asking the right questions.
Many of the entities the GNTO and other key entities are presenting as “sustainable” are in fact questionable and economically, socially, and environmentally unsustainable trajectory, as Dr. Sprague and many others suggest. It is also important for the reader to understand that these international companies are becoming monopolies, whether or not European lawmakers address the fact. TUI is the best example I can think of, since the German company gobbles up hotels, cruise itineraries, packaged tours and flights, and so on.
Next I’ll present real people and their opinions on the 2018 tourist season here on Crete. Stay tuned.