The Tourism Conference at Mykonos

The conference on tourism in the Cyclades that took place in Mykonos on the weekend 18-19 November was very interesting. The participants included academic experts on regional and island development, on the economics of tourism, and on spatial planning and architecture, together with spatial planners, historians and archaeologists, social anthropologists, artists, journalists, representatives of citizens’ movements and associations—including our association—and local and regional councillors from Cycladic islands and the Southern Aegean region. A gathering of people with such diverse expertise and experiences was unusual and led to productive discussions. There were about 100 participants at the conference. We congratulate Despina Nazou and Anna Kammi for their idea to organise the conference and for the excellent organisation.

A common conclusion from many of the talks is that the growth model being pursued in the Cyclades will lead to the collapse of their natural environment. The unique landscapes in the islands are being destroyed by the construction of disproportionately large hotels and villas. The limited natural resources of the islands, such as water, are being over-exploited and depleted. The islands cannot manage the large volume of plastic and other waste that is being produced. The growth model being pursued poses also significant challenges to local societies. The islands’ inhabitants benefit financially from tourism but face increasingly negative consequences. These include the extreme seasonality of tourism, with congested infrastructures over the summer that become abandoned during the winter, the difficulty to attract public servants, such as doctors and teachers, and the increased lawlessness and corruption.

The proposals made by the speakers had many elements in common. Building outside zoned areas should be drastically curtailed, and large parts of the islands should be left unbuilt. Spatial planning should take into account the protection of the landscape, and should not be used as a tool to cater to the demands of real-estate investors, large and small. The same applies to the notion of carrying capacity, which is increasingly being defined in loose and malleable terms for the same reason. The buildings in the islands, as well as the management of the islands’ natural resources, should be made compatible with the austerity and sense of measure of the Cycladic landscape. The privileges accorded to strategic investments in the tourism sector must be drastically curtailed, and control mechanisms should be instituted. The tourist season should be extended so that there is less seasonality and congestion during the summer months. Emphasis should be given to develop forms of tourism that are compatible with a longer tourist season and a smaller environmental footprint. These include cultural, hiking, gastronomic and conference tourism. 

The President of our association, Dimitri Vayanos, spoke about the developments in Ios and connected them to the topics covered in the conference. He spoke about the purchase of a large part of the island by companies controlled by the same business interests. About the efforts of these companies to obtain permits for large-scale tourist investments that will completely destroy the Cycladic character of Ios. About the extensive damage to the natural environment that the companies have already caused. About the inability or unwillingness of the state to enforce the law. About the greenwashing practices of the companies, which advertise their projects as world-leading in environmental sustainability, via PR-generated articles in the Greek and foreign press. And about the lack of economic sustainability of the companies’ existing activities, as we witnessed first-hand this summer with the poor maintenance and emptiness of the much-advertised five-star hotel Calilo. The presentation material (available here; surprised and shocked the public, even those who knew something about the case.

It is encouraging that a large group of people from the Cyclades and elsewhere gathered in rainy and cold Mykonos with common concerns about how best to protect this unique group of islands and render their tourism sustainable. Society is becoming sensitised and concerned.  

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