Responsible tourism in Greece

Tourism makes up almost 20 percent of GDP (up to 80 percent of income on the islands), and some 20 percent of the labour force is involved directly or indirectly in the industry. During Greece's financial crisis, violent protests flared up in cities over unpopular austerity measures, and as a result tourism slumped, with the result that many small companies went out of business.

Back then we believed, as we still do, then when a country's economy is on its knees, the best way to support the people there is by booking a vacation, and making sure that your money makes its way to local businesses. Avoid all-inclusive resorts, and chain restaurants. Stay local, eat local, buy local instead.

As Greece emerged from the financial crisis, tourism receipts picked up and have not stopped growing since. After all, this has always been one of Europe's most desirable vacation destinations. But while that increase in spending is welcome, it brings with it its own challenges.

Wildlife & environment

Overtourism

The Greek economy has been in the doldrums for some time now, and the financial crisis, which began in 2010 and from which the country only began to emerge in 2017, only worsened the effects. Harsh austerity measures resulted in thousands becoming homeless, many more entering poverty, and immense social strain. Yet through it all, one part of the economy kept ticking over. Tourism.

Greece’s tourism industry contracted significantly during the financial crisis of course, but with no fewer than 18 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, hundreds of idyllic islands, world-famous archaeological ruins, a sumptuous Mediterranean cuisine and a wealth of activities available from hiking and cycling to watersports and small ship cruising, it was never going to fall from favour. In recent years, lower rates aimed at driving tourism receipts, coupled with fears over terrorism in rival destinations such as Turkey, Tunisia and Egypt, have seen tourism bounce back in a big way. Officials reckon that a new job is created for every 30 tourist arrivals.
But the resurgence of its tourism industry doesn’t necessarily mean all good news for Greece. The spectre of overtourism, which affects destinations worldwide, is a growing concern. In 2018 Greece was expected to receive some 32 million foreign visitors, up almost 5 million since 2017, an astronomical increase. That level of growth puts immense levels of pressure on small island communities, fragile ecosystems and ancient sites where preservation programs weren’t designed for these numbers.

With infrastructure being overwhelmed during peak travel months, Greece is now looking to move away from its three pillars of tourism approach: Sun, Sand and Sea to alleviate pressure on the most popular places such as Santorini. It’s to be hoped that encouraging people to visit lesser-known islands and mainland destinations will help to spread the income from tourism, while also reducing demand on overstretched resources.

What can you do?
Travel out of season. The peak summer months of July and August can be ridiculously hot and crowded anyway, so you’re far better off avoiding them if you can. May, September and October are glorious in Greece, promising warm sunny weather.

When researching where to go, look further afield than ever-popular islands such as Santorini, Crete and Corfu. You may need to take a slightly longer ferry journey, but the rewards are worth it: far fewer people around, pristine natural settings, and the sense of fresh discovery.

Sources: Telegraph, Guardian

Responsible tourism tips

The Ionian Islands are key breeding sites for the Mediterranean's endangered loggerhead turtle, and designated nesting beaches on islands like Zakynthos are off limit between dusk and dawn when the turtles come ashore to lay eggs. Nesting season is June to early August, with hatchlings emerging two months later – all events that coincide closely with peak vacation season. Also avoid taking boating trips in the Bay of Laganas because of the risk of collision with swimming turtles. On any Ionian beach, avoid using beach umbrellas on dry sand areas as you run the risk of piercing buried eggs – and flatten any sandcastles which could act as obstacles for nesting turtles. You can get further information from Archelon – the Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece. Wildfires are a major problem in Greece during the tinder-dry warmer months. In 2012, over 170 fires sped rapidly (like wildfire, in fact) across swathes of land, killing more than 50 people as well as taking an uncounted toll on wildlife. After-effects can last for years, with places like Mt Parnith and parts of the Peloponnese still scarred by conflagrations from back in 2007. Take huge care not to do anything that might spark a fire. Do not light fires in the wild or discard glass bottles which could concentrate sunlight and start a blaze. If you see glass lying in scrub pick it up and dispose of it elsewhere. If you come across a fire, call for help immediately from the fire brigade and locals. Do not try and fight it yourself. Don't buy natural sponges from shops. They will almost certainly have been collected irresponsibly, with devastating results for the marine ecosystems. The same applies to any coral products. Do all you can to support rural communities and traditions. Rural Greece has suffered for years – even more with recent austerity – due to migration from rural areas to cities because of lack of local opportunities to earn a living. Community-based tourism based on using accommodation, tours, restaurants and food from local producers can play a key role in providing money and opportunities to help locals – especially young people – believe they and their communities have a future where they are, thus helping maintain the life and traditions of rural Greece. Consider a dolphin and whale watching tour in which you can aid research that contributes to monitoring and conservation of the local dolphin population. However, not all dolphin and whale trips can claim to fall under the banner of responsible tourism. Many tours that offer a chance to swim may also be poorly conceived and conducted, and therefore irresponsible. Please fully consider the environmental policies of any operator before considering a tour. There are also water parks in Greece that use captive dolphins to perform trips. Here at Responsible Travel we are against all such dolphinaria. Read our guide to responsible tourism dolphin watching here.
Written by Norman Miller
Photo credits: [Page banner: Alex Antoniadis] [Overtourism: Lauren Jankowski]
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