Many tourists continue to flock to Greece to replenish state coffers, as they could bring in up to 20 billion euros ($20.73 billion) as the COVID-19 pandemic wanes.
The bad news is that there are so many ancient archaeological sites, including the Acropolis, that are so overgrown that there are fears they are at risk of being damaged and ruining millennia-old features.
In an article in the British newspaper The Guardian, Tourism Minister Vassilis Kikilias highlighted the dilemma: “We are almost in December and the season continues, which is exactly what we want: to extend it little by little.”
The New Democracy government wants tourists to come all year round and offers them different attractions, from golf to sports and medicine, and also encourages them to visit less popular parts of the country.
There will probably be more than 30 million tourists this year, almost three times the country’s population, or slightly less than the 33 million in the record year 2019, before the arrival of the coronavirus.
The government welcomes them with open arms despite criticism that it does it for money and doesn’t care about the future of ancient sites as long as they keep coming and spending.
During the peak summer period, around 16,000 holidaymakers climbed the famous Acropolis each day to see the Parthenon and further criticism was leveled at the government for paving over part of the landscape to attract and accommodate even more, thereby changing its character.
During nearly two years of pandemic lockdowns and slowdowns that virtually paralyzed international air traffic and emptied tourist and archaeological sites, there were fears that they would not return.
Now some traders in the tourist area of Plaka, near the Acropolis, want them to go home, exhausted from trying to keep up with them even as they scoop up souvenirs like candy in bowls.
Anna Simou, who works at a contemporary Greek design store in the area, told the newspaper: “We are all exhausted and it’s because of the new staff the management is employing.”
Athens Mayor Kostas Bakoyannis said tourists have put such a strain on the city’s resources that they would have to pay a small daily tax to help deal with the situation, noting that more than 7 million people will have visited the city this year.
“It is unfair that 650,000 permanent residents of the heart of ancient Athens have to foot the bill,” Bakoyannis said. “If we want to sustain the city, we must adapt as almost all other European capitals have done, and introduce a tourist tax on visitors,” he added.
With Russian airlines banned under European Union sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine, Americans have led the charge this year and are coveted as “big spenders” eager to travel again.
Such was demand in the United States that more direct flights were added – 63 per week – as airlines competed for those flights, which also drove up seat prices in the rush to Greece.
The country was the third most popular destination in the world in 2022, the report added, and tourism is its main source of income, accounting for up to 25% of the gross domestic product (GDP) of 208.38 billion euros ( 216.2 billion dollars) per year. employs nearly a million people.
But most, in addition to discovering Athens, head straight to the same places: the islands of Santorini, Mykonos, Corfu, Rhodes and a few others, bypassing those that offer a true Greek experience without the crowds.
Overtourism is putting a strain on the infrastructure of these popular places as well as 18 UNESCO World Heritage sites being trampled under the feet of foreigners who continue to flock in a relentless cavalcade.
“The red lights are flashing,” Peter DeBrine, UNESCO’s chief tourism adviser, told the paper’s Athens correspondent, Helena Smith. “We need to start asking ourselves how much is too much, and 16,000 visitors clogging up a monument like the Acropolis every day seems way too much… We have moved from overtourism to revenge tourism with the same net effect” , he told the Guardian about the danger of having too many tourists and the need for a balance between revenue and conservation.
“What is needed is a radically different approach that starts with consumers but extends to tourism and heritage management. It is clear that authorities must take steps to reduce overcrowding at world heritage sites if the tourist experience is not to be degraded and conservation is to be ensured,” he said, adding that “We realize that tourism is the lifeblood of so many communities and is vital to local economies, but excessive tourism poses a real danger. Either you are smart and take action, or you kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.”
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