What happened in Santorini when tourism ‘machine’ stopped

(CNN) – There is a reason why Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis flew to Santorini, where he wants to announce that his country is reopening to tourism earlier this month.

It is one of the most romantic and beautiful photo opportunities on the planet when the evening sun begins to sink to the edge of the extinct volcano, of which the island is part.

Santorini is a sight that helps make it the most visited island in Greece and receives up to two million tourists a year – many come to huge cruise ships that can normally be seen parked in the middle of the natural bay below.

The island will once again welcome international visitors by plane from July 1, but warnings on the coronavirus mean that their number will be much less than before, and cruise ships will not return soon.

And while this means a brutal time for some businesses, others on the island want the expectation of a new era in which the beauty of Santorini can evolve without turning into a “money-generating machine”.

Double blow

The Covid-19 lockout left Santorini.

The Covid-19 lockout left Santorini.

ARIS MESSINIS / AFP via Getty Images

The impact of Covid’s crash has already been striking for a tourism-based destination for 90% of its income. In the case of Santorini, the crash came as a double blow, as the island recently opened its hotels and restaurants all year round.

During this forced isolation, only residents of Santorini were allowed on the island. Guests from the mainland had to return home, and new tourists were not allowed. However, the hard shutdown worked. No potentially fatal disease cases were diagnosed in Santorini.

Although the island is reopening, everyone is careful. Personal protection will not only benefit guests.

“No one wants to catch Covid in Santorini,” says Joy Kerluke, who runs Dmitri Taverna in the Ammoudi Bay. “I have to say that we had no lockdown in Santorini and we felt safe because no one came here. I think we all have enjoyed the silence and scenery for a while.”

Santorini will look exactly the same as its blue-domed churches and thousand-meter cliffs, but unusually empty.

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“We expect 15 percent of visitors compared to previous years,” said George Filippidis, general manager of Andronis Suites hotel in Santorini. “Economic damage will be huge. We will work with losses for 2020, but we want to open our staff to provide employment and support the local community completely dependent on tourism.”

Quiet and crowded

Ships carrying up to 3,000 passengers are not expected to return in 2020.

Ships carrying up to 3,000 passengers are not expected to return in 2020.

ARIS MESSINIS / AFP via Getty Images

The complete absence of visitors allowed several major projects to be completed. “The new terminal at the airport is working now,” Filippidis says. “The new road connecting Oia to the airport and part of the port of Athinios has also been completed, so it will be much easier to navigate the island.”

For a destination that is second only to Venice with cruise ship issues, the fact that very few of these massive ships will return in 2020 is considered good news. These floating hotels, where each ship dragged 3,000 people into minibuses, blocked the roads of Santorini.

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

Kerluke has to empty tables and prepare personal protection equipment at Dmitri’s Taverna, one of the few dock restaurants that offer uninterrupted views of Santorini’s famous sunset.

“We will have fewer tables along the pier, which is difficult for us as it is already a small tavern.” Says. “And we will wear masks and gloves. It will also be antiseptic for our customers.”

Kerluke, who came from Canada 25 years ago, says it is solace.

“Those who decide to come to Santorini will have a great time,” he says. “They will see Santorini as silent and illegal as before.”

‘Strange time’

The locals reflect the future of Santorini.

The locals reflect the future of Santorini.

ARIS MESSINIS / AFP via Getty Images

Apart from tourism, the other mainstay of the Santorini economy has been vineyards. Unique, Assyrtiko-based Santorini wines are exported all over the world, and most of the island’s 18 vineyards are open to visitors.

Until now, 2019 vintage should be in restaurants and supermarkets all over the island, but Petros Vamvakousis, the manager of Venetsanos Winery, says the lock has disrupted the distribution.

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“Our 2019 model stays in stainless steel tanks and barrels,” he says. “It must have been bottled between February and April, but five people who had to do it had to stay at home. Now we’re trying to catch up.

“We normally produce 50,000 bottles per year, but we rely on exports, and they are now close to zero. Our distributor in the United States reported that there was no market for Santorini wine in the US, although the restaurants remained closed.”

Like many wineries, Venetsanos was able to earn income through tastings and tours until the crisis. The winery, which is strikingly cut into the cliffs overlooking the Port of Athinios, has a beautiful terrace, where the wine is served with snacks, but Vamvakousis says that the number of people that can accommodate will be limited to four or six per table from now on.

“We live in a strange time,” he says. “Everything about the island reminds me of winter. Many restaurants, cafes and hotels are closed. Now it’s extremely strange that summer and Santorini are very quiet and alone.”

Stopping the ‘machine’

In recent years, we have seen complaints about extreme tourism in Santorini.

In recent years, we have seen complaints about extreme tourism in Santorini.

ARIS MESSINIS / AFP via Getty Images

Vamvakousis believes he is optimistic that busy days will return once again, but the forced decline will help reassess the island’s future.

“Santorini is one of the most beautiful places in the world, but I’m sure the crash has helped.” “He stopped the machine that produces money and doesn’t care about the environment. Now is the right time to think about what’s wrong in Santorini. We have the right to protect, but we don’t have the right to destroy.”

Although money is a major problem in 2020, not everything related to the interrupted tourist season is a disaster. Gill Rackham, who was originally from the UK, Gillza and her husband Vasilis and Oia Old Houses apartments, have mixed blessings.

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“About a month ago, our July bookings seemed about 75% occupancy rate good, but now it is and drops to 20%,” says Rackham. “But my intake will be the winners in this disaster. Santorini was given a respite to breathe again … no crowds, no traffic jams … no cruise liners.”

Rackham said, “He realized that several taverns run on the beaches of Perivolas and Perrissa, but there are many for local Greeks and Athens visitors! Owners of other places are beginning to open on July 1, the expected date for international flights.

Some hotels have a three-month crash period to rethink how they interact with guests. “We will offer our services digitally,” says George Filippidis of Andronis.

“Using your mobile device, you can check in online, order a cocktail, book a trip in the deep blue Aegean waters and check when your trip will end.”

Honeymoon advantage

Santorini receives 90% of its income from tourism.

Santorini receives 90% of its income from tourism.

ARIS MESSINIS / AFP via Getty Images

Indeed, the privacy model that makes Santorini so successful as a honeymoon destination can be advantageous.

“Rather than large hotels with large public space, most Santorini suites have private entrances and sunny balconies with jacuzzi that are cleaned and chlorinated every day,” says Filippidis. “Breakfast is served in your room, not in the dining room. This is ideal for guests who want to feel safe. Unlike large resorts, we don’t have to put perspective screens between the sun loungers.”

Greece is no stranger to financial crises, but in the 1950s and 60s and as recently as 2008, it has always managed to see mass tourism as a way to stimulate the economy.

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

In his Santorini speech, Prime Minister Mitsotakis knows that Greece wants to be safe, but 20% of Greek citizens working in tourism, and the industry contributes up to 30% of the economy, a long and profitable summer and even a prosperous fall in islands such as Santorini.

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