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Greek Islands Fight for Identity Amid Tourism Boom

Ios Island, Cyclades, Greek mills
Ios Island, Cyclades, Greek mills. Credit: Flickr / Titanas CC BY 2.0

The absence of tourism on the Greek islands during the COVID-19 pandemic inspired a plan to help the Cyclades Isles locals safeguard their culture against tourism.

Greece has seen historical tourism records broken with revenue from foreign travelers expected to exceed twenty billion euros this year. This would overtake the previous record of 18.2 billion euros seen in the year prior to the pandemic in 2019.

The country was also the most visited place on Earth in 2022.

Although seasonal summer destinations did see record numbers this year, tourism in Greece is no longer just at its height in the summer months. The country is also experiencing an increase in hotel stays across October and November.

Tourism on the Greek islands of the Cyclades

These October trips include visitors to the Cyclades. Traveler numbers are up as much on less popular islands such as Sifnos as they are in Santorini, which is a very well-known Instagram destination.

During the quiet pandemic periods, the president of the Museum of Cycladic Art hatched a plan to help restore the island chain’s culture and biodiversity. Sandra Marinopoulou told The Guardian: “As luck would have it I was stuck on an isle at the time. Without the masses, with no tourism whatsoever, the landscape had returned to its natural state, both primitive and virgin.”

The graduate of business administration and marketing from the American College of Greece had noted tourism’s negative affects on the Greek islands. Speaking to The Guardian, she added: “It was as if a light went on. It was so obvious what had to be done because all around you could see the difference.”

What came out of Marinopolou’s initial thoughts was a scientific committee of archaeologists and environmentalists. This group was tasked with helping local people protect the islands’ unique identity against the waves of tourism and climate pressures.

Greek church ruins in Mykonos
Greek church ruins in Mykonos. Credit: moonjazz, public domain

The Cyclades is the most popular Greek island group for tourism. It encompasses twenty-four inhabited isles dotted around Delos, the archipelago’s ancient sanctuary off Mykonos. However, tourism has put a major strain on the local populations of the island chain.

In speaking to The Guardian, archaeologist and head of the Athanasios C Laskaridis charitable foundation, Dr. Angeliki Kosmopoulou said: “We have come to a point where on every Cycladic island there are swimming pools when there is not enough water for basic needs.”

Kosmopoulou also sits on the committee. She added: “One of our intentions is to see how we can help local communities grow without compromising the natural environment, their culture and their natural heritage.”

The doctor added that the committee’s aims are not to put tourists off but to instead encourage tourism that revives old traditions and respects the environment. She said: “Local people can prosper by attracting the like-minded. And by gaining their trust that is a point we want to convey.”

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