Corfu becomes an inhospitable place for its own inhabitants, a centerpiece and not a living organism – The Irish Times

Every year, towards the end of October, we reclaim the streets. It is not a political gesture. It does not require an organized march, nor banners or cheerleaders. Or the police. We simply stroll through the city, its beautiful arcaded streets and narrow alleys, from which we have been banished since the beginning of spring by the hordes of tourists wandering around with aimless curiosity.

A recent study warned that Athens has also reached a saturation point – in this case, due to the explosion in Airbnb availability which has increased by 500% over the past seven years. The study refers to “tourist carrying capacity”, which is defined as “the maximum number that can visit a tourist destination without causing negative effects on the natural, economic and socio-cultural environment”. In Athens, and many other hotspots, that number has already been exceeded.

On the small Cycladic island of Santorini, winemakers have complained for years that they are losing land to new hotels, putting their unique product, its Assyrtiko wine, which owes its dry quality to the island’s volcanic soil, at risk.

In nearby Ios, where Irishman Philip Corrigan runs a niche tourism business, competition from huge resorts has nearly extinguished distinctive wetlands and their biodiversity. In Corfu, two massive developments threaten to destroy unique ecosystems that are unfortunately not protected by law. Environmental damage cannot be reversed.

In Corfu alone, 1.7 million tourists arrived by air last year, not to mention the tens of thousands disgorged during daytime cruise ship departures. It is the latter, in fact, who follow their guide (it is she who has the numbered ping-pong bat) around the main attractions, doubtless wondering if it is Dubrovnik or Chania.

We are repeatedly told that the absence of a coordinated overall plan will ultimately destroy the very product that is Greece’s most valuable industry. Greece, once the starting point of democracy and philosophy, is now only a destination.

Warnings are not heeded, for the same reason that the natural beauties of the islands are overbuilt: greed. Greek tourism is now a victim of its own success. Already in the 1960s, Lawrence Durrell and Gerald Durrell, who lived in Corfu in the 1930s, saw “get rich quick” as the engine of tourism development.

We are told that 20% of the national workforce is employed in tourism, but in hotspots like Corfu, Mykonos and Santorini almost everyone, from grannies to small children, is drawn into some aspect of tourism. on which their livelihood now depends. .

Without tourism, which contributes more than 25% of gross domestic product, Greece would be economically dead. With tourism, it is in danger of social and cultural death. How can the quality of life of people living permanently in Greece be protected and maintained if the uncontrolled expansion of tourist numbers and behavior is encouraged?

It has been argued that “strategic” developments in Ios, Corfu, Paros and Kea, funded by foreign investors, are the only avenue for tourism development. But, in the face of this insistence on huge foreign investment, it was argued by local people that “hypertourism is a problematic choice and building large-scale tourism is not a one-way solution”. , especially for islands.

During the brief winter months, we enjoy the sheer pleasure of being able to stroll through the alleys unhindered, without shoals of tourists who seem unable to understand “Excuse me” in a known language. But the season is stretching. Every year we leave the streets a little earlier and get them back a little later.

For 400 years Corfu was dominated by Venice and today reflects its cultural and architectural heritage. But we suffer from same disease as Venice today. Donna Leon, both in her own words and those of her fictional sleuth, Guido Brunetti, has been recording the erosion of the “real” Venice for decades: the replacement of traditional crafts and craftsmanship with cafes and souvenirs made abroad. Most “authentic Murano” glass, one of the hallmarks of Venice, is now made in the Czech Republic. Many “traditional Greek” products are made in China or Taiwan. And why would a British tourist from a cruise ship want to buy bags of stuff from the Corfu branch of Marks and Spencer? Or a sweatshirt with the caption “Chicago Bulls”?

Corfu, like Venice, becomes an inhospitable place to live for its own inhabitants. In the village where I live, the two year-round taverns have closed for the winter, as the passing trade has become more lucrative, and therefore more important, than the local custom. The village risks becoming a centerpiece rather than a living organism.

Soon, homogenization will turn Corfu, Santorini, Mykonos, even Athens, into mere destinations, indistinguishable to all but discerning visitors – themselves a dying breed.

Comments are closed.