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Is Overtourism Ruining Greek Beaches?

overtourism greece greek Navagio Beach Zakynthos
Navagio (Shipwreck) Beach, Zakynthos, one of the many Greek beaches that has experienced overtourism. Credit: Dronepicr/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0

Greek beaches are renowned across the world for their beauty, but many locals and tourists claim that overtourism is ruining the country’s most popular summer destinations.

Social media users from across the planet likely know about some of the most popular Greek beaches, such as Navagio Beach on Zakynthos or Balos Beach on Crete even if they’ve never visited the country.

That’s because these scenic locales, which are unlike any other beaches found across the world, have become famous on social media platforms, such as Instagram.

This popularity has contributed to the waves of tourists who visit the country each year, and locations that were once not well-known have since become internationally-renowned due to social media.

Overtourism to blame for crowding in Greece?

Overtourism refers to overcrowding caused by a massive amount of tourists visiting a place at one time, and it usually leads to difficulties for locals and tourists alike. The phenomenon has been recorded worldwide as well as in many areas of Greece during the summer months.

In Venice, for example, hordes of tourists were crowding the city’s small streets, rendering the city nearly unlivable for locals. The Italian government has even attempted to slow the influx of tourists to the city by discouraging day trips or one-day stays in the city in hopes of reducing congestion.

Overtourism is often a particularly difficult issue to tackle, as many of the countries that experience the phenomenon also rely heavily on tourists economically, as does Greece.

Many locals, although disgruntled by the negative impacts of the phenomenon, are hesitant to speak out or implement changes to fight overtourism due to fears of losing business, particularly in the wake of the pandemic, which was disastrous for the sector.

Yet, the impact of the phenomenon on Greek beaches is massive and could lead to long-term negative effects on the country.

Clearly, tourists themselves are not to blame for any negative effects of crowding. Greeks, who are known for their generous and welcoming nature, love having tourists come to their country and experience the beauty of the Greek culture and landscape.

Yet, overtourism itself is untenable. As many note, while overtourism may lead to short-term economic boons, its negative impacts could end up hurting tourism in the country. For example, overcrowding at beaches could lead to destruction of local nature and wildlife, overdevelopment in the area, and noise pollution, all of which may drive tourists away in the future.

Tourists lament impact of overtourism on Greek beaches

Many islands and popular summer destinations, including once serene, calm beaches with few crowds have been transformed into noisy, overcrowded beaches full of people with boats anchored along the coastline.

Even tourists who visit Greece have begun to complain about overcrowding on Greek beaches, with many of their negative reviews on tourism sites such as TripAdvisor going viral in Greece.

One user claimed that the water and sand at Balos Beach, perhaps the most famous beach on Crete, was full of oil from boats anchored along the shore and claimed that the experience turned them away from the island forever.

“Never again in Crete,” they wrote.

Pile of Garbage at Navagio beach, Zakynthos
Overtourism ruining Greek beaches. Credit: Environmental Scientist and Photographer, Michael Bakas

Piles of trash on Zakynthos’ Navagio Beach

Pollution from sunscreen and litter from plastic has also hurt the country’s marine life and countless significant ecosystems.

Navagio (Shipwreck) Beach in Zakynthos, which is a popular location for photo shoots for social media due to the shipwreck located along the shore, also received negative reviews.

On TripAdvisor, a user wrote: “Dirty and overrated place. There are so many other amazing places on the island. It is always crowded and not worth staying there.”

Recently, a picture of Navagio beach with a pile of waste has gone viral. Besides losing its beauty, if the garbage ends up in the sea, marine life and the whole ecosystem will suffer.

Many tourists and Greeks alike seek out the country’s beautiful beaches for peace and relaxation, but overtourism has made many places chaotic and overwhelming.

While the problems surrounding overtourism are clear, the solutions aren’t as simple, particularly in a country where tourism accounts for a significant portion of the GDP.

In recent years, while coronavirus has been catastrophic for tourism in Greece, the pandemic has also lead many Greeks to rediscover and admire popular sites without the crowds.

This year, since pandemic restrictions in the country have been lifted and the tourism season has begun, many Greek beaches may face an even larger influx of tourists than seen in pre-pandemic years.

Visiting during the off season, seeking out unknown beaches to prevent impacts of overtourism

Sustainable tourism seeks to prevent overcrowding in popular destinations to reduce the negative environmental impacts of tourism and increase knowledge of a country’s culture and history. It is often touted as an alternative to current trends in tourism.

One solution is promoting tourism to the country during the “off season,” which would prevent overcrowding at popular spots in the country, making such sites more enjoyable for tourists themselves.

For example, the weather is usually quite mild and warm in Greece well into September and even October, making those months the perfect time for visitors to take a trip to the islands, have a swim, and avoid the crowds. The end of May is often perfect for beach trips, as well.

Although popular beaches are undoubtedly gorgeous, there are countless hidden gems dotting the country’s coastline and on Greek islands. Rather than only going to the most popular beaches, tourists can seek out hidden beaches away from crowds.

Additionally, Greece is not only a summer destination. There are countless stunning destinations that are beautiful all year round, and there are many mountains and forests that make Greece a perfect option for a winter vacation, as well.

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