After a long period of living in the uncertainty of the corona crisis, life is gradually getting back to normal. Here in the Netherlands the large groups of tourists arrive again. The restaurants and cultural sector are of course incredibly happy with this, but the locals are less so. They got their city back during the corona crisis and have to hand it over to the tourists. In a country like the Netherlands that is not so bad, but what about Greece, a country that runs for 80% on tourism. Are the Greeks really waiting for the tourists to return or should they leave their suitcases in the closet?
It is May, the tourist season in Greece has started and it seems that all Greeks are ready to welcome the tourists again. More than half of the Greek population works full-time in the tourism sector and one third of the population has a side income in the tourism sector. It is therefore fair to say that almost every Greek was hit hard by the corona crisis. Alexander also testified in this way. He is an accountant but as a side income he rents out his parental home through airbnb. “The corona crisis was not a good period for me. My airbnb income completely disappeared, but I was lucky that I could continue to do my regular job. There are many people who have come out worse. A friend of mine worked as a chef in a restaurant. He now lives the tourists back with his parents and rents out his apartment through airbnb to cover the costs. When I hear that I really can’t complain but I’m glad to see the bookings coming in again.”
When you walk through the streets of Athens you notice that not everything is quite as it used to be. The streets are emptier than usual, and there is an incredible amount of vacancy. In a street with 10 houses, 6 of them are empty. Vacancy has been a problem in major cities for some time, and actually throughout Greece, but the corona crisis has made the problem worse. What is nice about the vacancy is that space is being made for other things that literally brighten up the city. several empty stalls were converted into flower shops
There are no long lines at various sites as usual. The only thing that feels like old times are the packed full buses of Americans that do their tour through Europe and stop at the highlights. One of them, Annabel, told me that she had imagined it completely different here: “I have heard all kinds of wild stories from acquaintances and friends who did this trip for corona. They queued for hours to see things and often couldn’t see because of the crowds around them. They also told me that the people were very unfriendly, but I didn’t notice any of that at all, I think it’s wonderful here.” What Annabel calls friendly are really just desperate sellers of souvenir shops and waiters of overpriced restaurants that you go to. trying to lure in. It seems they have become even ‘friendlier’ after the corona crisis. Desperate times desperate measures What Annabel calls friendly are really just desperate salespeople from souvenir shops and waiters from overpriced restaurants trying to lure you in. It seems as if they have become even ‘friendlier’ after the corona crisis. Desperate times desperate measures What Annabel calls friendly are really just desperate salespeople from souvenir shops and waiters from overpriced restaurants trying to lure you in. It seems as if they have become even ‘friendlier’ after the corona crisis. Desperate times desperate measures.
But not everyone agrees with Alexander and Annabel, especially not Danai, an artist from Thessaloniki. “I’m not happy with the return of the tourists, and neither are many of my friends. When they left we had the city to ourselves again. I grew up here so I’ve lived here for about 28 years. During the crisis, I discovered places I had never seen before, simply due to the overload of tourists. My creative process also went much better when there were no tourists, it felt like I could breathe again. Now that the tourists are back, my breath has taken off again and I live in a kind of deep valley, that’s why I’m also hesitating to move, it doesn’t feel like my city anymore On the one hand I’m glad they made me realize that Thessaloniki isn’t what it used to be.
Because the big cities attract the most tourists, the problem is greatest and most visible here, but we should not forget the countryside either. Many archaeological sites are spread across the Greek mainland. Small towns with restaurants and souvenir shops have been built around these sites. When you drive through by car, waiters with many hand gestures make it clear that you have to stop at their restaurant. Most are empty, except for a few you can recognize them by the tour buses that are outside the door. These patrons have been smart enough to make an agreement with the travel company to let the tourists have lunch in their restaurant.
In contrast to the big cities, the people in the countryside have missed the tourists very much, according to Dimitri Papanakitas, who runs a restaurant in Mycenae, for several reasons: “Yes, we need the tourists here. They provide our income, but we want they also teach our culture. We Greeks patriotic, we take every opportunity to tell about our culture and history, corona took away not only our income but also our stage. An additional factor to welcome the tourists with open arms is the current war with Russia. Without the tourists, we can no longer continue to pay our energy bills after the previous crisis, we are now faced with the next one. But I am positive, we will get through it. I no longer turn on the light in the room,I serve dinner by candlelight and not a single tourist minds that haha!”
Opinions on the return of the tourists are clearly divided, but whether they like it or not, the Greeks need the tourists. For many, it’s a love-hate relationship they’re stuck in. Anyway, let’s hope Danai finds her breath again and Dimitri gets his podium back. And to all the people who are planning to go on holiday to Greece, please don’t leave your suitcases in the closet.