If, like me, you enjoy long swims in the crystal-clear blue Mediterranean, you should thoroughly research well ahead in order to choose the right zone. It is a sadly known fact that August wreaks havoc in most seaside resorts, whereas it would be so easy to adapt; if we think the Mediterranean climate allows for a wide range of activities for quite a long period, say April-May to October, it is still a mystery why Europeans take their main holidays in August. The heat, traffic and sheer amount of people wanting food, water, air conditioning, transport and other services are so concentrated in a few weeks that a small country like Greece, whose a population of around 9 million has to accommodate at least half of that just in a span of few months and whose energy consumption is mostly based on fossil fuels, is a long way from the notion of sustainable tourism.
In fact, if we are honest, the notion of sustainable tourism does not, as such, make much sense. The German sociologist and essayist Hans- Magnus Enzensberger put it laconically, and the translation goes more or less like this: the tourist destroys what she/he seeks by finding it…Harsh, I know, and extreme: it could mean that either we should visit overly popular destinations, as these are already “destroyed” – and examples of citizens protesting against over-tourism include Barcelona and Venice – or avoid going to pristine ones altogether… Yet one could certainly conceive of more sustainable ways of managing what is, for many countries or regions, the first industry and source of revenue.
How could it be? Here are a few examples, more or less encouraging.
My avid holiday plan included as many as 5 Dodecanese islands, a slice of paradise in the Aegean sea and where my family roots lie. All of them blessed by plenty of wind, sun and, obviously, water. Some, like Rhodes and Kos, have big woods and forests with a rich biodiversity, whilst the others are quite dry, mountainous but, also, quite intact and under-populated.
Chalki is on a good track: the island which until 4 years ago relied on ships to fetch water invested in de-salinization plant, now fully operational, charges 50Cent for showering on one of its most popular beaches (Pontamos Bay), is tackling biological discharge and its newly elected mayor will consult with the local population to shape, together, the island‘ s future, for instance deciding on a special tax for the numerous day tourists flocking in every day.
Tilos, whose landscape is similar, cannot be said to have the proper infrastructure for its increasing number of visitors: which means that car rentals and hotels are all full to the brim in the high season, and are under- used in all the other months. Whilst still reliant on KOS island for energy, ( we assume mostly fossil-based) Tilos has one wind-powered mill, which would suffice for the whole island consumption, and has received a EU Horizon 2020 grant for special solar panels and batteries which, however, are not yet operational because the energy market in Greece is still not liberalized and permissions depend on the central government.
Symi, an island of elegant beauty with Venetian architectural influences is, on the other hand, a victim of its attractiveness, and, at times, its proximity with the Turkish coast from which, as the photographs show, hundreds of mega-yachts flock and….park! The latter show flags come from all over Europe and the world. Whilst the ones docked on the port pay a relatively small daily fee, (100€ upward, according to length) those occupying the bays and coasts are scot-free: except everybody else, including nature, is paying for the ecosystem services. I won‘ t even broach the topic of their waste and discharge… But swimming I found floating bags of chips, the inevitable plastic bags (when and where is the EU Plastics Strategy being implemented?) and chewing gum, whilst on the lookout for moving boats. It felt like cycling amongst cars in the city. The photograph shows what a Greek tourist scooped up in less than an hour thanks to his daughter`s fishing net. Gives beachcomber a whole new meaning, doesn‘ t it?
Yet we should not just blame others. We are all part of the tourism game and we can all become better tourists and consumers:
- for instance, by purposefully booking trips and hotels in the so- called low season,
- ( we hope these terms will disappear soon) thus rewarding operators who keep their establishments up and running and encouraging others to follow suit;
- if not possible to travel other than by plane, perhaps minimize using so many fossil-fuelled individual vehicles, which includes jet-skis and other obnoxious noisy gadgets that disrupt the peace of everyone at sea;
- try to consume local seasonal produce – an imported iceberg salad with smoked salmon on Rhodes bears not only a negative carbon footprint, it‘ s also quite tasteless in comparison;
- and resist the temptation to pile up plates on the all- inclusive deal, as half of the food gets shamelessly left over and lands in the rubbish.
I for myself try to comply with the last three but now pledge to avoid booking my next summer holiday in August.
Some support comes from the European Commission, which launched the current Call for Proposals: https://ec.europa.eu/growth/content/boosting-sustainable-tourism-development-and-capacity-tourism-smes-through-transnational_en. and in line with our expertise and range of services.
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