Re­think­ing tourism

Kathimerini English - - Front Page - BY MARIA KATSOUNAKI

It might seem out of place, if not down­right utopian, to dis­cuss a change of course for the country in the mid­dle of a ma­jor cri­sis in the econ­omy and the tourism sec­tor, and when 49.3% of cit­i­zens have told a sur­vey by MRB that they rank un­em­ploy­ment as the first among the country’s five big­gest prob­lems. How can we look for a bright side in es­ti­mates that the loss of rev­enues in tourism for 2020 will come to around 10 bil­lion eu­ros, when tourism was re­spon­si­ble for keep­ing the job mar­ket afloat and for giv­ing a boost to young en­trepreneur­s. The coro­n­avirus pan­demic has scup­pered ex­pec­ta­tions for the Greek sum­mer sea­son; many ho­tels are choos­ing to stay shut, as de­mand is slug­gish or even nonex­is­tent in parts. Faced with an ir­re­versible re­al­ity this year – and not just for this country but for ev­ery pop­u­lar Euro­pean hol­i­day des­ti­na­tion – the res­i­dents of Venice are choos­ing to see the pan­demic as an op­por­tu­nity to re­think tourism in its en­tirety. Ac­cord­ing to the New York Times, the res­i­dents and po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship of the his­toric Ital­ian city are seek­ing to de­velop a lo­cal econ­omy that does not rely en­tirely on tourism, but suc­ceeds in at­tract­ing for­eign in­vestors, in bol­ster­ing its two uni­ver­si­ties and in trans­form­ing aban­doned build­ings into en­vi­ron­men­tal re­search cen­ters. Hav­ing reached the point of re­ceiv­ing 10.2 mil­lion vis­i­tors in one year, Venice is look­ing for al­ter­na­tives to a re­turn to ex­ces­sive tourism. I won­der if any­one in Greece is hav­ing any sim­i­lar thoughts with re­gard to San­torini and Mykonos, or Crete and Rhodes? How will we re­verse this re­liance on just one source of rev­enue? How will we make use of our know-how, fa­cil­i­ties and in­fra­struc­ture to cre­ate some­thing new and dif­fer­ent? To­day it’s the pan­demic; to­mor­row there may be another un­ex­pected event to re­mind us how vul­ner­a­ble our over­re­liance on tourism makes us – and es­pe­cially when all other pro­duc­tive ac­tiv­i­ties have come to a halt. This dis­cus­sion is nei­ther new nor orig­i­nal. It has been around for years, but it took the vi­o­lent changes im­posed by the coro­n­avirus to shake the Vene­tians – for in­stance – into look­ing for other ways to at­tract for­eign in­vest­ments. Greece has so many un­tapped re­sources. It has nat­u­ral beauty, but also an abun­dance of sun and wind. Its cul­ture is not just what you see in the guide­books. There is an en­tire country out there that has re­mained in the shad­ows, not be­cause it’s weak, but be­cause it has been over­looked.

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