In 2020, the dependence of our economy on tourism appeared in relief and pain. Globally, the crisis has raised existential questions about tourism. On the demand side, the trend is towards seeking experience, authenticity and quality, especially from teams that have the ability to contribute financially. In terms of supply, in many countries governments are taking the opportunity to rethink the tourism product itself. Countries such as Norway, Croatia and Slovenia, as well as the European Commission and the UN, are proposing radical changes for the post-coronary era. There is an international emphasis on both thematic tourism – from gastronomy to cultural exploration, entertainment and “urban” tourism, walking, sailing and diving tourism – and – mainly – sustainability. In destinations like Amsterdam the emphasis is not on how to reach a larger number of tourists (a dangerous and outdated Greek taboo), but on how to rearrange the tourist product in the service of the destination.
Another legacy of the crisis is the dramatic acceleration of labor digitization. This has an impact on the choice of workers’ place of residence – there is an escape from urban centers, in areas closer to nature – but also on the way in which workers divide their time between urban centers and the countryside. The category of “digital nomads”, who either as employees or as self-employed can choose their place of residence, creates new data of a financially strong and important group that can stimulate local economies.
So we are in front of a review of what exactly means “tourist”, since tourism no longer concerns only those who come for seasonal holidays (as a rule, in Greece, summer), but also those (Greeks or not) have a base elsewhere and they spend part of their time in our country. The government has rightly shown great interest in attracting those with income comfort to own homes and properties around the world, providing tax incentives to attract both digital nomads and retirees. They all want to spend their time in a country with pleasant weather, beautiful environment, good food, interesting and authentic areas. How do our policies affect them?
From a developmental point of view, after a long period of investment difficulties, there is a huge upheaval. At first glance, this seems positive, but the reality is worrying – and the government must show due diligence. The danger is that tourism investments often consume our environmental and aesthetic capital, and we, instead of looking at them more closely, subsidize them. A resounding example of such a risk is the case of Ios and the www.save-ios.gr initiative staffed by those who fall into the categories of visitors that the government wants to attract. Studies such as those of the EBRD, ELLET for hypertourism in Santorini and Rhodes painfully reflect the risk of tourism development becoming an open vineyard. The letter of the Hellenic Society of 60 personalities, dated 6/10 to the Prime Minister highlights the extent of the anxiety for the preservation of the natural and man-made environment, which, apart from being an end in itself, is the basis for our sustainable tourism development.
In the environmental field, in addition to the necessary restriction of off-plan construction that has been postponed again, there are a number of policies that need to be reconsidered so that we are not “green” just by name. Achieving, for example, de-lignification through RES should not be done by setting aside the impact of the installation of wind turbines and photovoltaics on the rest of the natural and man-made environment, which we advertise as the basis of our tourism product, nor should ETAD alone decide to rent beaches with umbrellas, bringing short-term income but degrading the authenticity of the beaches. 2021 begins with political mobility. The leadership of the Ministry of Environment and Energy seems to be listening to the recommendations for attention – but we expect further steps. From the Ministry of Tourism, the emphasis on the Destination Management Organizations (DMMO) that is legislated, despite the expected difficulties in implementation, is necessary. A “pilot” for sustainable development discussed with the leadership of the Ministry of Tourism and the EBRD would be another important step. The changes that will be required in order to be able to successfully formulate a strategy at the national and local level are large and will need a comprehensive oversight by the Prime Minister himself. Given the new strategic challenges and sustainability under strong pressure, it is time to rethink tourism.
* Mr. Michael G. Iakovidis holds the Sir Donald Gordon Chair of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the London Business School,
where he is Professor of Strategy.