Back in 2017, the mayor of Santorini, Nikos Zorzos, limited the number of cruise-ship passengers disembarking on Santorini to 8,000 people per day. The problem over overtourism on Santorini raised fears that the island might lose its character for quite holidays and affect the services provided to tourists.
To find out more about the current situation with Santorini we contacted one of Greece’s most influential tour executives, Rebecca Skevaki, who’s the owner of Crete Urban Adventures, Grecian Lux, and the director of Santorini Urban Adventures.
Argophilia – Last year the Telegraph made a report about overtourism in Greece, and Santorini is the top romantic destination in the world. What is your perspective on the exponential growth in visitors in the last decade?
Rebecca – Santorini is a unique place with a very delicate ecosystem. The situation where overtourism is concerned is at a point of critical mass actually. Not only is the experience of Santorini for the visitor affected by so many people trying to grasp that iconic sunset, the ecology, urban geography, infrastructure are also negatively affected. The soul of the island is also obscured when there are too many visitors all at once. This is a huge problem we have to deal with collectively as stakeholders.
Argophilia – The GNTO has begun a policy for Greece to not move beyond the carrying capacity of the environment. They also say part of the answer to the problem lies in the extension of the summer tourism season and the development of thematic tourism which attracts visitors all year round. Is this the right course?
Rebecca – First let me say this, nowhere is the impact of too many visitors felt more than on Santorini. The island should be a case study for how the GNTO and other stakeholders deal with Greece popularity as a destination. As far as the GNTO’s stated strategy, yes, extending the season is part of the answer. But there is a caveat. If we simply extend the season and welcome still more visitors, the problem will be all the more acute.
Argophilia – Does this mean overtourism is something that will need to be fixed with legislation?
Rebecca – I am not a big fan of government intervention where the root problem is civic cooperation. The tourism situation in Santorini, and in the rest of Greece, is something local businesses, leaders, citizens, and outside players need to tackle. Like I said before, Santorini can be the litmus test for a new initiative to reach sustainability. Logic demands we work together for our mutual survival. We can start with this unique island.
Argophilia – How is Urban Adventures Santorini dealing with this crowding situation at the business level?
Rebecca – As you can imagine, the problem for the individual business is not a simple one. At least a part of our problem is self-regulated because we do not accept overbookings. Still, the touristic pressure can get intense if we don’t try and be case and time-sensitive to what’s going on on the island at any given time. Traveling lesser-known paths, setting our tours for off-peak times, creating smaller groups, these are a few of the ways Urban Adventures Santorini mitigates the problem.
The pressure on the infrastructure of Santorini, the fact that water consumption has doubled, electricity consumption increased similarly, and the traffic problem the huge excess production of garbage because of too many tourists is only part of the problem. The experience visitors to Santorini take home this year, will not be the same experience travelers remember from past seasons. Furthermore, with the rapid expansion of Airbnb rentals on Santorini, the numbers of available stay nights has also increased.
The announcement that Nikki Beach Resort & Spa Santorini just opened should come like a blessing. 62 luxurious rooms and suites right on the beach make for a wonderful 5-star experience, but what if guests have to wade through a burgeoning crowd to enjoy Santorini? Now slide in Katikies Garden, which just opened, and Katikies Resorts & Club operates six properties in Santorini. This story via The Telegraph accentuates what Rebecca Skevaki had to offer. Right now romantic couples out to share the sunset at Oia and other popular locations, they need to take a number or find other vantage points. And this is just not the Santorini we’ve presented to the world these last few years.