By Maria Paravantes
Santorini needs no introduction. Travel lovers, newlyweds, teens, the affluent and potential holidaymakers not to mention the romantics all want that 15-minute chance to watch the sun dip into the sea with the compelling caldera as a backdrop. The problem is that too many people want the same thing at the same time on an island that’s merely 73 square kilometers in size.
The island’s mayor, Nikos Zorzos, informed delegates at the IMIC17 conference on “Tourism: Trends, Prospects and Implications for Businesses and Destinations”, held in the capital Fira last week of the massive implications of overtourism and lack of government direction.
“The municipal authority and locals have begun to understand that the situation has boomeranged… that tourism is now impacting the traditional way of life, the architecture, the settlements,” Zorzos said, adding that construction is so rapid and far-reaching that it has already occupied 11 percent of the island. “Farmers are forced to sell their land to tourism as land is becoming scarce”. This, he said, will immediately impact the future of Santorini’s internationally famed products: its wine, tomatoes, fava bean and capers.
“Visitors to the island on peak season days can reach to as many as 15,000 – four times the population,” he said adding that the sheer numbers have placed great pressure on local government to handle everything from waste management and energy capacity to water supply and the provision of services.
At the same time, Zorzos said, “we cannot hire extra personnel due to bureaucracy and any actions or proposals we make are hard to implement because these are not in the hands of local government alone”.
Zorzos is calling for more powers to local government in order to be able to implement decisions made on the spot.
“Doubting local government decisions is creating problems… a legal procedure can take more than a decade to be finalized and once that happens it is obsolete and human resources have been depleted in the meantime,” Zorzos stressed hours later addressing a panel of Greek and international experts and academics.
“Identifying the problems is not enough. We must act now, tap into our culture and geographical uniqueness, safeguard farmland, protect the environment and the landscape, and make use of public space,” he concluded.