This summer in Greece a lot has changed on account of the coronavirus pandemic. Officials, businesses, and especially the Greek people have been under tremendous pressure to adapt. News this morning that Tourism Μinister Haris Theocharis will announce a special agreement with the largest travel organizer in the world, TUI, comes as both a surprise and with a hint of caution.
According to ANA, a strategic partnership between Greece and TUI will lead to structuring a goal for TUI to provide 50 percent of the visitors that the international tour operator brought to Greece in 2019. This number would be about 1.5 million visitors to Greece since 2019 welcomed 3 million via the German tour company.
TUI’s first direct flight to the island of Kos this summer landed on Monday afternoon, marking the beginning of the tourist season for the Greek islands after the coronavirus pandemic outbreak, tourism ministry sources said on Monday. The country certainly needs the numbers TUI and other large tour firms can provide, but many are concerned about corporations and their overbearing influence on countries like Greece, where sustainable tourism is a must.
Mr. Theoharis was onhand personally to welcome TUI’s first direct flight to the island of Kos, along with Deputy Minister Manos Konsolas and sector officials from the island. But just the other day Athens officials called for a revamping of Greece tourism industry and the final product. So, some experts are wondering how a new business plan starts with putting the same players in front status quo? Personally, it’s tough not to side with my own constituents who are doubtful of the real intentions of the current Greek administration. Positivity only goes so far.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and SETE President Yiannis Retsos just agreed a few days ago that a 10-year strategic tourism development plan focused on sustainability is a must for Greece going forward. Now, the world’s biggest all-inclusive budget holiday footprint is about to be stamped on Greece in a strategic agreement?
To begin with, TUI needs Greece a lot more than the Greek people need the German tourism giant. I don’t know the numbers, but I’d say TUI Group had better send 1.5 million Germans to Greece, or Angela Merkel might pull the plug on the state propping up travel companies. Sorry to be blunt here, but this announcement detracts greatly from the otherwise stellar efforts of both Mr. Theoharis and Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
Here on Crete, I have it on good authority, that most mid-to-late summer bookings from agencies like TUI have not canceled anyhow. If this is the case, TUI is promising to “work on” something that already is. So, what’s the need for a strategic partnership with the Greek government for? Most people in the know in Europe consider Greece a German colony anyhow. Is this announcement the harbinger I’ve discussed previously?
Here we are at a crossroads, at a moment in history where we can reassess and evaluate all our systems, not just the economy or tourism. And, instead of getting innovative or proactive, it looks like we will choose to continue down the path of what Norwegian social anthropologist Thomas Hylland Eriksen calls “overheating.” In a TED talk not long ago Eriksen talked about exponential change and tourism in Spain, and how locals there now complain that Spain is no longer Spain due to not only the physical pressures of foreign tourists but the cultural impact as well. This was before COVID-19 slapped us all awake, supposedly.
From Athens to Santorini hoteliers and the stakeholders in the tourism industry are desperate, panicking in fact, to simply “get back” to where they were last year. No one is talking about “getting ahead” of the game to a truly sustainable future. Eriksen and scientists like here have expressed recently how the coronavirus pandemic “cooling off” effect has given us time to effect behavior change. This just does not seem to be happening. On Santorini and other Greek isles, hotels are chopping room prices 30-50 percent just to snag a few clients to stay afloat. Of course the government back TUI will come up with a new guarantee, and the winners won’t be independent hotel owners or resort tycoons.
The following Instagrams from TUI reveals what sort of holidays the company is pushing. Somehow, I don’t see the gigantic swimming pools and sun loungers TUI marketing is showing us empty by the time August hits.
Part of the problem is the overall rationale of the system. The vested interests develop a kind of philosophy that is highly resistant to new ideas, and chemically toxic if you are into environmentalism and true sustainability. It’s all about money when you come down to it. TUI and entities like it touch many lives financially and socially, it’s like programming. One read of this CNN story from a few years back, and you can find the sellouts without a magnifying glass. The author and her sources advocate one gigantic all-inclusive resort feeding human beings like cattle and sunning them like baking potato chips. Let me just call out one of the experts sourced by CNN, Jeremy Sampson, CEO of the UK-based Travel Foundation. Here’s what Thomas Ellerbeck, TUI Care Foundation Chairman of the Board of Trustees had to say about Travel Foundation:
“With their local teams on the ground, organizations like the Travel Foundation can be a bridge between destinations and the travel industry.”
I’m sorry, but until somebody proves otherwise, any company linked by umbilical to TUI has nothing whatsoever to do with being the solution. At least this is my opinion. TUI, like any other conglomerate, is about stockholder win, and that’s it. Any semblance of propriety or caring for human beings is purely public relations and marketing. I don’t want to dive off into personalities or a deep dive into Russian oligarch Alexei Mordashov. Yes, TUI is largely controlled by the chairman of Severstal, and you all know how mother Russia is saving the Arctic for future generations. Sorry, Alexei, I am for the Greeks and our beloved Crete, even though I fight hard defending Putin and Russia.
Finally, this letter to the editor of Athens News from 2012 is from a frequent traveler to Greece from the UK. The author encapsulated back then, what we see happening all over Greece today. Big business has encroached so far into traditional Greek family business the whole country is transformed. How on Earth can anyone expect a traditional Crete experience, for instance, if TUI and other big businesses leverage out every Mom and Pop operation on the island? This is what’s happening. Jean writes:
“Greece I fear has allowed itself to be fooled by the global tourism business.
Greece is a product they can sell. Counting the number of arrivals at airports as a means of gauging tourism success or failure, is no longer of any value to the thousands losing their businesses and livelihoods each season.”
Amanda Settle, travel and expat lifestyle blogger and influence, says places like Rhodes and other tourism-dependent destinations have to stand up to TUI and other corporate entities. Back in 2017, Philia Tounta PhD(ca), MBA, BA, Di asserted that all-inclusive trend on Crete was destroying local economies rather than helping them.
I am not proposing that doing good business with TUI and other large tourism entities should be banned. The way forward seems fairly clear from the perspective of locals and those officials and businesses willing to admit balance is the key. Giving in and allowing TUI or other businesses too much power ends up ruining not only the destinations but the very businesses so dependent on tourists. And as for authentic Greece? This news of co-branding Greece-TUI style does not bode well for the future in my book.
Let’s hope TUI style reverts to traditional Greek vacationing instead of cattle herding.
Image credit: Feature image courtesy Boss Tweed CC 2.0