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What happens in Santorini when the ‘engine’ of tourism stops



What happens in Santorini when the 'engine' of tourism stops

(CNN) – There is a reason why Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis flew to Santorini earlier this month when he wanted to announce the reopening of his country for tourism.

When the afternoon sun begins to fall behind the edge of an extinct volcano that is part of the island, it is one of the most romantic and beautiful photo opportunities on the planet.

This is a sight that helped make Santorini the most visited island in Greece, receiving up to two million tourists each year – many arriving on giant cruise ships that are usually seen parked in the middle of the natural bay below.

The island will welcome international visitors by plane once again starting July 1, but a warning of coronavirus means their number will be far less than before and the cruise will not return anytime soon.

And while that means a brutal future for some businesses, others on the island enjoy the prospect of a new era, where the beauty of Santorini can develop without being transformed into “a machine that has just made money.”

Double blow

Covid-19 lockdown has left Santorini deserted.

ARIS MESSINIS / AFP through Getty Images

The impact of Covid’s lockdown has been dramatic for destinations that depend on tourism for 90% of his income. In the case of Santorini, the lockdown comes as a double blow because the island has recently started opening hotels and restaurants all year round.

During this forced isolation only the inhabitants of Santorini were permitted on the island. Guests from the mainland must return home and no new tourists are allowed in. However, the drastic closure was successful. Not a single case of potentially deadly disease was diagnosed in Santorini.

Even though the island is open again, everyone is careful. Personal protection is not only for the benefit of the guests.

“Nobody in Santorini wants to capture Covid,” said Joy Kerluke, who manages Dmitri’s Taverna in Ammoudi Bay. “I must say that by locking up, we felt safe in Santorini because we had no case and no one came here. I think we all enjoyed the view and the silence for a while.”

Santorini, with its blue-domed churches and thousands of foot cliffs will look exactly the same, but will be very empty.

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“We expect 15% of visitors compared to previous years,” said George Filippidis, general manager of the Andronis Suites hotel in Santorini. “Economic damage will be very large. We will operate at a loss for 2020 but we want to open so we offer jobs to our staff, and support local people who are totally dependent on tourism.”

Calm and not bubbly

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

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

ARIS MESSINIS / AFP through Getty Images

The absence of visitors has allowed several large projects to be completed. “The new terminal at the airport is now operational,” Filippidis said. “The new road connecting Oia with the airport and part of the port of Athinios has also been completed, so going around the island will be much easier.”

For destinations that are second only to Venice with cruise ship problems, the fact that very few of these large ships – if any – will return by 2020 is considered good news. With each ship pulling up to 3,000 people into a minibus, this floating hotel is blocking Santorini’s road.

“No cruise ship arrivals have yet been confirmed,” Filippidis said. “And even if they start at some point, it will be very limited.”

At Dmitri’s Taverna, one of the few dock restaurants that offer views of the famous Santorini sunset, Kerluke must come out of the table and prepare personal protective equipment.

“We will have fewer tables along the dock, which for us is difficult because we already have a small taverna,” he said. “And we will wear masks and gloves. There will be antiseptics for our customers too.”

Kerluke, who arrived from Canada 25 years ago, said there was consolation.

“People who decide to come to Santorini will have fun,” he said. “They will see Santorini, quiet and not as usual.”

‘Strange time’

Locals have reflected the future of Santorini.

Locals have reflected the future of Santorini.

ARIS MESSINIS / AFP through Getty Images

Apart from tourism, another mainstay of the Santorini economy is its vineyards. Santorini’s unique and Assyrtiko-based grapes are exported worldwide, and most of the island’s 18 vineyards are open to visitors.

At present, vintage 2019 should already exist in restaurants and supermarkets across the island, but Petros Vamvakousis, manager of Venetsanos Winery, said the locking had disrupted distribution.

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“Our 2019 model will remain in tanks and stainless steel barrels,” he said. “It should have been bottled between February and April but the five people who will do this must stay at home. Now we are trying to catch up.

“Normally we produce 50,000 bottles per year but we rely on exports, and this is near zero right now. Our distributor in America told us that while restaurants remain closed in the US, there is no market for Santorini wine in America.

Like many wineries, Venetsanos until the crisis was able to earn income through tasting and touring. Dramatically cut to the cliff overlooking Athinios Harbor, the winery has a beautiful terrace where wine is served with snacks, but Vamvakousis said that the number of people who could be accommodated would be limited to four or six per table from now on.

“We live in strange times,” he said. “Everything about the island reminds me of winter. Many restaurants, cafes and hotels are closed. Now it is summer and it is very strange for Santorini to be so calm and lonely.”

Stop the ‘engine’

Recent years have seen complaints about overtourism in Santorini.

Recent years have seen complaints about overtourism in Santorini.

ARIS MESSINIS / AFP through Getty Images

Vamvakousis said he was optimistic that the busy days would return, but believed the forced decline would help drive a re-evaluation of the island’s future.

“Santorini is one of the most beautiful places on Earth, but I’m sure the lockdown is beneficial,” he said. “That stops machines that have just made money and don’t care about the environment. Now is the right time to think about what’s wrong with Santorini. We have the right to protect, but we don’t have the right to destroy.”

While money will be a big problem in 2020, not everything about the disrupted tourist season is a disaster. Gill Rackham, originally from England, who has managed the Lotza restaurant and Oia Old House apartment with her husband, Vasilis for more than 30 years, saw various blessings.

“About a month ago our July booking looked good, around 75% occupancy, but now it’s down to 20% and it’s falling,” Rackham said. “But my opinion is that in this disaster there will be a winner. Santorini has been given leeway to breathe again … no crowds, no traffic jams … no cruise ships.”

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Rackham has noticed that “on the beaches of Perivolas and Perrissa there are a number of tavernas operating but mostly for local Greek and Athens visitors! Owners of other places are returning to open July 1, which is the expected date for international flights.”

Some hotels have taken a locking period of three months to rethink how they interact with guests. “We will offer our services digitally,” said George Filippidis at Andronis.

“You will be able to check in online, order a cocktail, order a cruise in the waters of the blue Aegean, and check when your trip ends, just by using your mobile device.”

Honeymoon benefits

Santorini generates 90% of its income from tourism.

Santorini generates 90% of its income from tourism.

ARIS MESSINIS / AFP through Getty Images

Indeed the privacy model that made Santorini so successful as a honeymoon destination could work to its advantage.

“Instead of large hotels with large public spaces, most Santorini suites have private entrances and sunlit balconies with special swimming pools or jacuzzis that are cleaned and chlorinated every day,” Filippidis said. “Breakfast is served in your room, not in the dining room. It’s ideal for guests who want to feel safe. Unlike in large resorts, we don’t have to install perspex screens between sun loungers.”

Greece is no stranger to the financial crisis, but in the 1950s and 60s, and as recently as 2008, it has always been able to see mass tourism as a means to revive the economy.

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

In his address in Santorini, Prime Minister Mitsotakis said he wanted Greece to be safe but he also knew that with 20% of Greek citizens working in tourism and industry contributing up to 30% of the economy, he needed islands like Santorini to have long and hot summers. auspicious and even a prosperous autumn.

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