What happened in Santorini when the "machine" of tourism stopped

What happened in Santorini when the “machine” of tourism stopped

(CNN) – There is talk that Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis flew to Santorini earlier this month when he wanted to announce his country’s resumption of tourism.

When the afternoon sun begins to sink behind the edge of the extinct volcano to which the island belongs, it is one of the most romantic and beautiful photo opportunities on the planet.

It is a view that helps make the island of Santorini the most visited in Greece, which receives up to two million tourists a year – many reach the giant cruise ships that normally look parked in the middle of the natural bay below.

The island will welcome international visitors by plane once again from July 1, but warnings about the corona mean that their number will be much lower than before and the cruise ships will not return soon.

And while that means a tough time ahead for some businesses, others on the island are enjoying the prospect of a new era in which the beauty of Santorini can flourish without turning into a “money-making machine.”

Double tap

The Covid-19 lock has left Santorini deserted.

ARIS MESSINIS / AFP via Getty Images

The impact of a Covid lock has already been dramatic for a tourism-based destination for 90% of its revenue. In the case of Santorini, the lock came as a double blow as the island had recently begun opening its hotels and restaurants all year round.

During this forced isolation, only Santorini residents were allowed on the island. Visitors from the mainland had to return home and did not allow new tourists. However, the drastic shutdown worked. In Santorini, no case of potentially fatal disease has been diagnosed.

Although the island is reopening, everyone is watching. Personal protection will not just be for the benefit of visitors.

“No one in Santorini wants to catch Covid,” said Joey Kerluk, who runs Dmitry’s Tavern in Ammoudi. “I have to say that with the lock we felt safe in Santorini as we had no cases and no one came here. I think we all enjoyed the scenery and the tranquility for a while.”

Santorini, with its blue vaulted churches and thousands of feet of rocks, will look exactly the same, but will be unusually empty.

“We expect 15% of visitors compared to previous years,” says George Filippidis, general manager of the Andronis Suites Hotel in Santorini. “The economic damage will be huge. We will be operating at a loss for 2020, but we want to open up so that we can offer employment to our staff and support the local community that is completely dependent on tourism.”

Quiet and without people

The cruise ships carrying up to 3,000 people are not expected to return in 2020.

The cruise ships carrying up to 3,000 people are not expected to return in 2020.

ARIS MESSINIS / AFP via Getty Images

The complete absence of visitors allowed the completion of many major projects. “The new terminal at the airport is now operational,” says Filippidis. The new road that connects Oia with the airport and part of the port of Athinios has also been completed, so the tour of the island will be much easier. “

For a destination that was second only to Venice in cruise ship matters, the fact that very few of these huge ships – if any – will return in 2020 is considered good news. With each ship carrying up to 3,000 people on mini buses, these floating hotels blocked the streets of Santorini.

“Arrivals of cruise ships have not yet been confirmed,” says Filippidis. “And even if they start at some point, it will be very limited.”

At Dmitry’s Tavern, one of the few seaside restaurants offering unobstructed views of Santorini’s famous sunset, Kerluk has to leave the tables and prepare personal protective equipment.

“We will have fewer tables along the waterfront, which is difficult for us as we already have a small tavern,” he says. “And we’re going to wear masks and gloves. There’s going to be an antiseptic for our customers.”

Kerluke, who arrived from Canada 25 years ago, says there is comfort.

“Those who decide to come to Santorini will have a great time,” he says. “They will see Santorini, calm and unstable as it was.”

“Strange time”

Locals are thinking about the future of Santorini.

Locals are thinking about the future of Santorini.

ARIS MESSINIS / AFP via Getty Images

Apart from tourism, the other support of Santorini’s economy was its vineyards. The unique wines of Santorini based on Assyrtiko are exported all over the world and most of the 18 vineyards of the island are open to visitors.

So far, the 2019 vintage should be in restaurants and supermarkets across the island, but Petros Vamvakousis, director of the Venetsanou winery, says the lock has stopped distribution.

“Our vintage stays in tanks and barrels made of stainless steel,” he says. “It should have been bottled between February and April, but the five people who would do that had to stay home. Now we are trying to make a difference.

“Normally we produce 50,000 bottles a year, but we rely on exports, and at the moment they are close to zero. Our distributor in America has informed us that while restaurants remain closed in the US, there is no Santorini wine market in America.”

Like many wineries, Venetsanos had to earn income through tasting and tours until the crisis. Dramatically cut into the rocks overlooking the port of Athinios, the winery has a beautiful terrace where wine is served with snacks, but Vamvakousis says the number of people that can be accommodated will be limited to four or six per table from now on.

“We live in a strange time,” he says. “Everything about the island reminds me of winter. Many restaurants, cafes and hotels are closed. It’s summer now and it’s extremely strange for Santorini to be so quiet and lonely.”

Interruption of the “machine”

In recent years, there have been allegations of over-tourism in Santorini.

In recent years, there have been allegations of over-tourism in Santorini.

ARIS MESSINIS / AFP via Getty Images

Vamvakousis says he is optimistic that the busy days will return once again, but believes the imposing decline will help re-evaluate the island’s future.

“Santorini is one of the most beautiful places on Earth, but I’m sure the lock was useful,” he says. “It stopped the machine that just made money and didn’t care about the environment. Now is the time to think about what went wrong with Santorini. We have the right to protect, but we don’t have the right to destroy.”

While money is going to be a big issue in 2020, it’s not all about stopping the tourist season. Gill Rackham, originally from Britain, who runs the Lotza restaurant and Oia Old Houses apartment with her husband Vassilis for more than 30 years, sees mixed blessings.

“About a month ago, our bookings in July looked good, about 75% fullness, but now it’s down to 20% and it’s falling,” says Rackham. “But my opinion is that in this catastrophe there will be winners. Santorini has been given a break to breathe again … without crowds, without traffic jams … without cruise ships.”

Rackham noted that “on the beaches of Perivola and Perissa there are some taverns that are open, but most of them are for local Greeks and Athenian visitors! Elsewhere, owners are starting to return to open on July 1, which is the expected date for international flights. “

Some hotels have set aside three months of locking time to reconsider the way they interact with visitors. “We will offer our services digitally,” George Filippidis told Andronis.

“You can check in online, order cocktails, book a cruise in the blue waters of the Aegean and see when your trip ends, just by using your mobile device.”

Advantage for honeymoon

Santorini earns 90% of its revenue from tourism.

Santorini earns 90% of its revenue from tourism.

ARIS MESSINIS / AFP via Getty Images

Indeed, the secret model that made Santorini so successful as a honeymoon destination could work in its favor.

“Instead of huge hotels with large public spaces, most of Santorini’s suites have private entrances and sunny balconies with a special pool or jacuzzi that is cleaned and chlorinated daily,” says Filippidis. “Breakfast is served in your room, not in a dining room. This is ideal for guests who want to feel safe. Unlike large resorts, we do not need to place rear-facing screens between sunbeds.”

Greece is no stranger to financial crises, but in the 1950s and 1960s, and only in 2008, was it always able to look at mass tourism as a means of reviving the economy.

The irony of the current situation is that tourism, which was the solution, is now the problem.

In his speech in Santorini, Prime Minister Mitsotakis said he wants Greece to be safe, but also knows that with 20% of Greek citizens working in tourism and industry contributing up to 30% of the economy, they need islands like Santorini. to have a long and profitable summer and even a prosperous fall.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *