There is no doubt about it: Monday’s fire in Greece that led to the loss of at least 87 people, while dozens remain unaccounted for, is a modern-day tragedy. So are the wildfires raging elsewhere in Europe, including in such countries as Sweden and Italy, as were the 9,000 fires that destroyed millions of acres of land in California last year, the 1999 Izmit earthquake that struck Turkey killing 17,000 people, and Hurricane Katrina in 2005 that left 1,250 dead in the US and nothing resembling the area’s former tourist hotspots like New Orleans.
But going as far as to create doubt and instill fear as to whether it is safe to travel, goes beyond seeking to ensure traveler safety, which in any case can never be guaranteed even outside our very door.
In the age of cut-throat competition and many vested interests across all sectors and in all nations, the idea of safety has featured high on the agenda, often as a catchword to create hype, mislead, divert, make or break a destination.
In the past, this could have literally devastated a once thriving tourist spot, but today, thanks in large part to the sheer speed with which news travels as well as to the far-reaching effect of the social media, the real picture emerges. And the real picture is that no country, no region, no territory, rich or poor, can be 100 percent safe.
When you add the terrorist dimension to such world-famed destinations as London (2005), Paris (2017) and New York (9/11/2001), you realize that travel is as much a bet as getting up from your bed in the morning, strolling through your neighborhood and taking the train to work.
The Foreign Office knows this, so does the US embassy in Athens, as do the international travel companies that have been doing business in Greece for over half a century. Airbnb knows this and has launched its own community-driven disaster support Open Homes project. And so do the international hospitality giants that are investing their cash in Greece right now, the highly-educated new generation of Greeks who are seeking to upgrade the tourist product, and the thousands of volunteers who showed up this week to help their compatriots in need.
At the same time, and while the foundations of the EU are still on shaky ground, Cyprus, Spain, Italy, Romania, and Bulgaria, even age-old rival Turkey responded immediately in a strong sign of solidarity among states.
Like Latvia and Sweden and others before and after, Greece too will receive support from the European Union’s Civil Protection Mechanism for the fires, while the EU – aware of this new reality – is moving swiftly ahead to set up RescEU’s reserve of assets to include firefighting planes, high-capacity pumps, field hospitals and emergency medical teams for use and lease in all kinds of emergencies.
In the aftermath of the fires in Greece, I can only feel great sadness for any fire, earthquake, tsunami or other natural disaster in any country that leads to loss of life and deprives people of their livelihood.
But to capitalize on a nation’s or destination’s tragedy to create false perceptions, serve dubious interests or perpetuate prejudice, is unethical. It is this thoughtless practice of overgeneralization that has led to terrorism. Fear-mongering is never in the best interests of the traveler, of the community, of the world as whole. It does not safeguard society. It intimidates, creating frightened people.
Is Greece a safe destination? In one word: absolutely. Greece proved it during the 2004 Athens Olympics, the smallest country to host the world’s largest sporting event after 9/11 welcoming thousands to Athens; it has proven it over the decades and is proving it every single day on its dozens of islands and mainland destinations.
Why is Greece always a favorite holiday option? Because people feel at home… or in one word: safe.