26oς economia Φοιτητικός Διαγωνισμός

3o βραβείο ατομικής εργασίας

TOULAKI ANASTASIA

Democritius University of Thrace Department of Law Studies

TOURISM: DESTINATION GREECE

INTRODUCTION

Tourism sector has longtime played a vital role in Greek economy. It has constituted a pillar of stability, even during major financial struggles. According to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), tourism in Greece contributes around one-fifth of GDP (directly and indirectly) and around one-quarter of employment. This ranks Greece 25th in the world in terms of the contribution of tourism to GDP. After consecutive performance records, certain indications suggest that perhaps Greece has reached the upside of its current tourism cycle and should expect a slowdown in tourism activity.

THE GREEK TOURISM PRODUCT: SUFFICIENT DEPTH AND QUALITY TO ENDURE THE PRESSURE?

Greek tourism still seems to withstand the competition, but the strong positive momentum of the recent years looks set to subside. In fact, after the all-time record 2018 with 33 million visitors, in 2019 tourism traffic was slightly slower with 31.3 million tourists. Several domestic and foreign challenges could jeopardize the growth of inbound tourism, the main of which are:

a) the uncertainty over the anticipated Brexit. UK makes up the third biggest market in arrivals and second in receipts for Greece.

b) the rebound of Turkey and other Mediterranean competitors. Turkey, Morocco and Egypt have now bounced back and others have popped up (e.g. Croatia). The devaluation of the Turkish lira has made one of Greece’s main competitors considerably cheaper.

c) numerous random variables, such as the colossal Thomas Cook travel agency collapse, that caused some severe losses in 2019, or the most recent coronavirus outbreak, which has fiercely stricken tourism industry leading, in the best case scenario, to a potent cutdown of 2020 tourism season.

After all, the biggest challenge for Greece is cease sticking to bare numbers and records and evolve its already successful tourism product by further ameliorating its strengths and combating its weaknesses. Which are they?

Greece is ranked 25th among 140 countries in the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) 2019 Travel & Tourism Competitiveness index.

Particularly, Greece firmly ranks higher than other competitors regarding some essential dimensions of tourism experience, such as locals’ hospitality and friendliness, accommodation quality, gastronomy, sense of security and natural beauty.

On a less positive note, Greece lags behind compared to its competitors in various other aspects, such as destination management, tourists’ information quality, transportation and infrastructure, entertainment options, ICT readiness, price competitiveness, etc. Remarkably, despite visitors’ high rating, Greece lacks in their intention of visiting again.

Thereafter, Greece, more than ever, needs a long-term, innovative tourism strategy with definite goals and coordinated actions, wholly aiming at a “rebranding” and overall upgrade of tourism product, capable of alluring high-income visitors and, thus, increase revenues apart from arrivals. The main priority axes to such effort shall contain:

a) an economic policy with lower taxes and investment-friendly environment. Greek tax rates are far higher than other competitors, resulting to weakened entrepreneurship and employment motivation, shorter season and limited or absent investments. Most characteristically, the recently introduced accommodation tax keenly hurts price competitiveness.

b) reducing seasonality and unbalanced allocation of tourism activity by prolonging tourist period throughout the year. That is differentiating and enriching the traditional Sea, Sun and Sand model by reinforcing domestic tourism with motives like social tourism subsidies, promoting lesser known destinations and special tourism forms (MICE, city-break, medical, etc.). Greece has the full potential to become an all-year-round destination.

c)an efficacious marketing and destination management tactics by making good use of technology, such as developing businesses’ online presence, amplifying tourists’ information supply system using both conventional (e.g. guides, books) and modern ways (e.g. mobile apps), appealing presentation of cultural resources with complementary online content, furnishing various recreation choices (festivals, concerts etc.) and currently boosting Greece’s image as a safe destination with actions like #Greece from home and #till then stay safe, targeting countries not ferociously hit by coronavirus, not succumbing to anticipated pressures of tour operators and airlines for extremely low prices, following a Bundling Product strategy instead and founding a crisis operation department for tourism.

A LAND OF TOURISM IN SEARCH OF APPROPRIATE TOURISM EDUCATION?

In this era of intensifying competition and crescent tourists’ demands, level-up of the Greek tourism product is not attainable without upgraded service offer. Tourism education is the one-way route to providing a worthy-repeating experience.

The number of employees in tourism field touched 1 million in 2019. Yet there is a shortage of human resources, arising from the gap between disposable skills and specialties and those demanded by tourism market. A good part of blame lies with the multiplicated tourism education system.

There is a plethora of educational structures, namely TEI, IEK, ASTE, OAED and private colleges, each one with different philosophy and orientation. And, probably, the biggest paradox of all: it is easier to obtain a tourism master than a bachelor (!). Until recently, only two Greek universities offered exclusively tourism bachelor studies. The introduction of new tourism departments marks some progress, still theoretical orientation and negligence of practice in tertiary education generates a mismatch of studies title and skills actually acquired.

The traditional consideration of tertiary education as ‘superior’ to vocational education has resulted to the majority of tourism employees being high school or post-secondary non university graduates and few tertiary education graduates purchasing a tourism career (approximately 17%), whilst Spain, Cyprus, Turkey and Croatia display higher proportions of tertiary education graduates (20-30%).

But tourism is interdisciplinary and demands various professional skills. Tourism is not just about hospitality services. New technologies and specialties (e.g. revenue manager, digital marketeer, PR manager …) necessitate equilibrium between education and training, a combination of general education, technical knowledge and fundamental social skills. Indicatively, Greece demonstrates one of the lowest indexes of human resources skills in information and communication technologies.

Thus, the radical reformation of the Greek tourism education system is paramount. The strategical keystones to this purpose shall comprise restructured curricula corresponding to business needs, new technologies and specialties, equally pairing theory and practice in tourism enterprises and emphasizing on both hard and soft skills, the establishment of a tourism university focusing on modern study fields, foreign languages and tour guides’ training, the uniformity of IEKS’ structure, the collaboration with international institutes and enterprises and promotion of mobility to cope with seasonality, researches on present and future needs in human resources, educational and training system quality evaluation, aiming at the configuration of professionals with an holistic tourism approach, perpetually trained and assuming tourism as a career option rather than an ultimate solution.

GREECE ON THE THRESHOLD OF OVER-TOURISM OR MERELY POOR INFRASTRUCTURE?

The over-tourism phenomenon has emerged in destinations globally. In Greece, there is evidence that breaking point is being reached in at least one location: Santorini, the most visited Greek island, with Mykonos, Crete, Rhodes and certain spots in Athens also at high risk. Is actually Greece the latest victim of over-tourism? Or it is all about inadequate infrastructure?

Undoubtedly infrastructure seriously undercuts Greek tourism. According to the Global Competitiveness Report 2019, Greece is ranked 39th out of 141 countries, averaging a 60.6/100 score in transport infrastructure, that is roads, airports, seaports and railways. Supportive infrastructure stands equally insufficient: only 7 golf courses in the whole country, the vast majority of yachting marinas unutilized, scarcity of amusement parks, conference centers and ski resorts, inefficient maintenance and organization of cultural resources and historical sites. Moreover, additional Airbnb supply has boomed uncontrollably and turned into a glut. The Fraport investment involving the 14 regional airports and the deluxe hotels’ blast have been the main notable steps forward lately.

However, over-tourism concerns something beyond mere overcrowding. It is about overreaching a spot’s carrying capacity, which is defined and maximized by infrastructure and fit management up to a certain point, and affecting locals’ life quality. And nowadays, social media has a role in causing “concentration effects of visitor flows”, encouraging people to congregate around specific areas and pushing them to some extreme stuff, for instance climbing up the rooftops to get the exact same perfect shot of Santorini, one of the most photographed places worldwide. Absolutely, Instagram is an important part of marketing strategy. But when there is no measure and rationality, there is a danger of it all becoming a huge boomerang. The consequences? Alienated local residents, degraded tourist experiences, overloaded infrastructure, damage to nature and threats to culture and heritage. A token of the locals’ effort to safeguard their homeland’s authenticity is the respect signs placed around the island:

Over-tourism is easier to prevent than to recover from, rendering even more conspicuous the necessity, amongst others, to

a) a sustainable growth strategy built upon a solid fact base, joint promotion and partnerships, involving all society sections, extend tourism season, regulate accommodation supply and generally codify tourism activity and legislation,

b) measures to limit access and activities similar to the daily cruise cap of 8000 imposed in Santorini, like deploying reservations and ticketing systems, implementing travel cards for unlimited local travel, variable or tiered pricing, using technology to help smooth out congestion and nudge visitors in real time,

c) promote local products’ consumption to revitalize agricultural production to deter land’s abandonment, form local tourism management groups or committees, set fundamental codes of conduct and security measures and,

d) above all, develop new routes and attractions and modernize infrastructure (e.g. facilitating accessibility to remote places, frequent itineraries, constructing heliports and seaplanes, increasing air connectivity to existing and new destinations, safer road network etc.).

Nevertheless, the post-coronavirus period will itself, most likely, provide an antidote for over-tourism and overcrowding situations.

ENVIRONMENT AND SPATIAL PLANNING: THE BATTLE BETWEEN SUSTAINABLE AND MASS TOURISM

Improving infrastructure demands investments. And attracting investments requires a favorable, stable investment environment. It is no secret that Greek urban and spatial planning procedures lie far away from legal certainty and incentives for investors. Endless bureaucracy, lack of coordination between authorities, ambiguity, complexity, or absence of legal framework and taxation are only a few of the impediments to promising investors.

Indeed, for the last three years, the only regulations on tourism spatial planning have been provided by the 12 Regional Spatial Planning Frameworks, half of them outdated. That is, there are no special provisions on the allowed or forbidden tourism facilities and activities. Meanwhile, irregular or outlaw building plagues Greek land, whereas the total “land-index”-as an index of the geophysical-cultural features’ contribution to tourism utilization potentiality-of Greece figures more than double compared to global and European average.

Therefore, there is imperative need for a plain tourism Spatial Planning Framework shaped out of a consultation process with local communities and cooperation between public and private sector that motivates new investments, urges the already commenced and eliminates arbitrary building. One that promotes special tourism forms depending on each regions’ uniqueness and estimated carrying capacity, regulates maritime planning, leads to human activity, infrastructure, settlements’ and urban development, includes utilization of uninhabited and rock islands, respects natural and cultural resources, generally makes worthy the innumerable Greece’s virtues to the fullest.

Said right to economic development is constitutionally registered up to the extent where likewise constitutional protection of natural environment kicks in. The so far experience has treated landscape protection and growth as opposite goals. But in countries like Greece, where natural and cultural assets have timelessly been the groundwork of tourism growth, this connection must be collateral and the concept of sustainability must be inherent in Greece’s tourism development policy, especially nowadays, when frantic mass tourism growth is weighing down the already worsening global environment and climate.

Waste management is, probably, the most troublous point for Greece. Trash majority is rejected (80% against EU average 24%) and only 19% is recycled (EU average 46%). The proper waste management planning deficit is more eye-catching in overwhelmed destinations like Santorini and Corfu, where local authorities have difficulties in coping with waste production, influencing both environment and aesthetics. Garbage and plastics blacken the image and quality of Greek coasts.

Overflow during peak months puts immense pressure on water supply system. The total green space in Athens and Thessaloniki lies far below the ideal and they both rank high in the list with the 215 European cities with highest traffic congestion (18th and 94th respectively).

It is encouraging, though, that Greece has taken measures to turn things around. Α multitude of hotels and resort complexes has been installing photovoltaic systems in an attempt to become more carbon neutral, investing in renewable energy sources and following optimal waste management practices (“Eco-hotels”). Swimming waters are cleaner than the EU average and Greece figures 2nd in the Blue Flags global quality awards with 515 beaches. A number of islands including Alonissos, Santorini and Paros have launched plastic-free campaigns and Astypalaia has become the first smoke-free island in the world. Greece seems to satisfactorily preserve certain endangered species compromised by tourism activity (e.g. Zakynthos and Alonissos National Marine Parks).

For Greece not to experience a downturn of its current tourism cycle, it is crucial keeping up with this effort. Some of the primary guidelines upon which the future of Greek tourism depends shall include:

a) embracing the statutorily implemented circular economy system, by developing proper waste management facilities and distinct recycling network, placing recycling bins in all hotels’ service departments with clear demarcation, adopting “pay as you throw” model, environmental training programs for employees and instructing visitors, environmental supervision in enterprises, codifying environmental legislation for tourism industry,

b) prohibition of single-use plastics, regular cleaning of adjacent waste areas and the reuse of water by biological purification for irrigation, promoting alternative tourism (ecotourism, cultural, sports etc.), integrated protection and administration regime of biodiversity, taking advantage of new technologies, LIFE and Horizon 2020 programs and,

c) once again, providing enticing motives (e.g. tax exemptions) to environment-friendly investments, with an adequate tourism Spatial Planning framework, meticulous cost/profit analysis without sacrificing long-term environmental damage in favor of short-term profitability, efficient building solutions towards the limitation of green spaces destruction, diminution of wildfires and floods probability and obviation of traffic congestions.

CONCLUSION

Greece has come a long way over the decades to become one of the top tourist destinations universally. But in an international environment, where competition is getting sharper and universal financial markets are characterized by extremely precarious conditions, maintaining and enhancing competitiveness of the Greek tourism product must be a constant goal. And this is a joint effort, requiring the mobilization of all productive and social forces. Only this way Greece will be able to grow aright and viably and enjoy the fruits of tourism development.

 

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