Greece warned to make urgent change if it wants to keep tourists

Greece has been warned it needs to make major changes if it wants to remain a popular tourism destination.

The country’s ombudsman issued a report on Thursday and called for urgent reform.

It needs to reduce rampant construction and protect water resources and coastal areas if it wants to maintain a healthy tourism industry across its mountainous mainland and beach-lined islands, it added.

Some 33 million people visited Greece in 2023, 5 million more than a year earlier, drawn by its ancient archaeological sites, turquoise Mediterranean waters and reliably sunny weather.

But in a report released on Thursday, the ombudsman warned of the growing environmental risks and called for urgent reform.

“Our country’s economy relies heavily on tourism which makes the need to manage it in a sustainable way even more urgent,” the report said. Greece must not “exhaust its potential, wasting it and making our tourist destinations unattractive over time”.

Earlier this week the body of celebrity doctor Michael Mosley was found on the Greek island of Symi. He was found to have died of natural causes after setting off for a walk from Saint Nikolas beach in searing 40C heat without a mobile phone.

Tourism accounts for over a quarter of economic output and nearly 2 million Greeks’ annual income derives from the sector, said the report, the first on the sector for the Greek Ombudsman since the authority was founded over 25 years ago.

Couple taking a selfie from a high vantage point in Santorini, Greece
Couple taking a selfie from a high vantage point in Santorini, Greece (Simon Calder)

Revenues are expected to rise to 21 billion in 2024 from 20.5 billion last year – a boon for an economy emerging from a decade-long debt crisis.

Social media favourite Santorini – a small island with 15,550 residents – receives more than 5.5 million visitors annually, twice the number it hosted in 2012, the report said. The island contributes 1 billion euros in annual receipts.

“In Santorini, even tourists complain about the great number of tourists,” the report said.

It called for greater regulation to reduce coastal construction and slow the felling of forests which was creating the right conditions for flooding. It also called for greater care of water resources in the face of “huge” requirements for drinking water, swimming pools and water parks.

“Tourism is a field where the lack of vision and strategy emerges with particular intensity. The exercise of a clear tourism governance is an immense need,” the report said.

Last year’s wildfire season in Europe was among the worst this century, the European Commission said. Fires burnt through more than half a million hectares, led to mass evacuations and killed at least 20 people in Greece.

Spending by EU countries on fire protection – both suppression and prevention – has remained more or less stable since 2001 at 0.5% of total government spending, but research from WWF Greece showed that more than 80% of Greece’s fire protection budget went towards suppression in 2022.

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