Greek Tourism and the Environment: On the Edge of a Precipice

Retrieved from at 15-10-2020

The breadth of support for this letter underscores how critical this issue is, yet the authors’ hope that it can also be turned into an opportunity in disguise, as the Greek development plan is being finalized.

Dear Prime Minister,

We, the signatories of this letter, would like to thank you for your work in developing a considered plan for Greece’s development. As this plan is now being finalized, we wish to share some thoughts that we hope can be integrated in its final version.

We all appreciate the need to promote investments that can revitalize the Greek economy and believe that development and environmental protection must work hand in hand.

That said, we are also concerned that the excitement with investments being pushed through (especially in tourism and energy) may inadvertently undermine Greece’s long-term financial, social and environmental prospects.

We are concerned that Greece should maintain its comparative advantage in tourism, which is currently at immediate and severe risk. We should not encourage large-scale tourist development projects, in environmentally sensitive and culturally rich areas such as small Aegean islands, as opposed to encouraging tourism development around existing settlements or reviving withering villages that could reinvigorate local economies.

Moreover, we are concerned with ongoing degradation of the natural and built environment as exhibited at its worst in Costa Brava, whereas better managed Mediterranean regions, such as Tuscany, should be the model for Greece.

While studies on Greece’s prospects have repeatedly emphasized the potential value of alternative forms of tourism, we see few measures to support this aim.

Such tourism has a longer season, attracts higher-income vacationers, is more connected to other sectors of the local economy (such as primary production), and is also more likely to engage smaller local entrepreneurs (as with agritourism).

Additionally, rambling / trekking, diving and to some degree yachting are sustainable for larger portions of the year. For all these, Greece’s nature preservation areas, such as those in the NATURA network (27% of the country’s land area), are of crucial importance.

We recommend no investments with a heavy environmental footprint should be permitted in such areas until the necessary management studies, now at last under way, are completed.

These should have been completed, as per the EU regulation, in 2006 but will instead be finalised by end 2021 and we shall then know where investments may be sited in NATURA areas. We are delighted to see that, after ignoring this EU regulation for fifteen years, the Greek state is now preparing to comply, in the country’s true interests.

This is part of a broader issue of acquiring a robust and consistent strategy for tourist development, based on local capacities and needs. We need to ensure we can accommodate various forms of tourism and preserve areas and issue permits accordingly, to avoid an inchoate set of investments which will undermine the long-term identity of each tourist destination and of Greece overall, let alone the natural and built environment.

Read the full study here (pdf format).

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