At a recent meeting between Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and executives of Royal Caribbean Cruises, boosting cruise tourism to Greece was a key topic of discussion. Royal Caribbean, the world’s second-largest cruise company, is expected to bring 662,176 cruise passengers to Greece by the end of 2019. The positives for the Greek economy and the cruise line seem obvious, but the news comes with a foreboding too.
According to reports, in 2020 the company’s number of cruise passengers to the country is expected to increase by almost 20 percent, reaching 825,348 arrivals. The news from the meeting told of the cruise line’s interest in adding calls to Greek ports of the mainland and the islands that have a cultural interest. But some port and islands are already on a totally unsustainable path for tourism activities.
Argophilia recently discussed overtourism with one of the world’s key experts in the field, Dr. Godfrey Baldacchino, the UNESCO co-Chair in Island Studies & Sustainability. The gist of our conversation appeared on Argophilia pages and those of Greek Reporter, as well. The Greek Reporter report got over 2,600 Facebook shares, which indicates social communities tied to Greece are intensely interested in this subject. To quote Dr. Baldacchino on the acute case of Santorini:
“Santorini thrives on tourism, period. Unless there is a different scope for investment, employment, etc., so as to promote diversification, then there is precious little one can do. Tourism is the octopus whose tentacles are everywhere on the island.”
The sustainability expert told me Santorini is a lost cause unless a catastrophe wakes people up. And cruise volume to the famous island is at the crux of the sustainability problem. Santorini’s Mayor Nikos Zorzos called a limit to cruise passengers to the island this season, but with little effect. But Santorini is not the only acute case of what will end up as a tourism disaster if companies like Royal Carribean and other stakeholders don’t address the issue. Venice is drowning in visitors, the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico is a swamp of tourists, and you cannot even see the Taj Mahal in India for the waves of sightseers there.
It’s not hard to read the writing on the wall if one looks at the case of world-famous Maya Bay in Thailand, and Koh Phi Phi Beach being shut down for months to repair environmental damage to the offshore reefs and marine life. The beach finally reopened with a 2,000 person per day limit in order to mitigate the damage already done. The future of Greece’s tourism is really a foregone conclusion, but Prime Minister Mitsotakis and his influence with these huge vacation providers can prevent an utter disaster. In fact, Mr. Mitsotakis is in a perfect position to set an example for the world.
The long-term win of totally sustainable travel is on the front burner all over the world. Sure, Greece will benefit if local enterprises are participating in the supply chain of cruise ships, and so forth. But, this is only part of a sales pitch. The future lies in creative ways of extending the tourism season, and of thinning touristic flows to the most popular destinations.
One way of doing this was discussed in the aforementioned meetings. It was also noted that with the opening of new Greek destinations, a number of “unknown” areas of the country will be strengthened by 2020 through cruise tourism. And this can be a huge positive.
If Prime Minister Mitsotakis and stakeholders like Royal Caribbean were to engage with the heavy hitters Britain’s Prince Harry has gathered for Travalyst initiative, then a roundtable discussion and decision process might go forward. Travalyst is a new global initiative founded by Prince Harry with Booking.com, Ctrip, Skyscanner, TripAdvisor and Visa, aimed at changing the impact of travel, for good.
Greece needs more tourism impetus, the world needs to experience this amazing country. But swarms of travelers and more all-inclusive hotels and resorts are not going to preserve Greece. This is a no brainer. I suggest to readers interested in preserving the nature and culture of Greece – contact the Prime Minister via his Twitter @kmitsotakis or on Facebook. The suggested #hashtag could be #GreeceTravalyst.