Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Stretching the Season

This "autumn", if it can be called that here on Rhodes, has well proven the logic of wondering why the tourist season can't be longer that it is at present. Granted, it varies year on year, but so far we've only had two brief periods of rain since last spring - and both of those came when the season was still running, in late September and then again toward the end of October.

Thus far, this November in Kiotari has been a succession of cloudless days with temperatures in the mid-20's C. Overnight it's still in the upper teens too. Such temperatures would be more than acceptable to visitors from Northern Europe, since they compare favourably with high summer in the UK, Germany and Scandinavia. Yet here the beaches are now devoid of sunbeds and umbrellas, the cantinas are closed, as are many of the restaurants and bars that service the tourists during the season too. Many hotels already have their temporary fences erected all around the perimeter of their gardens, ostensibly to keep the goats from eating most of the flowering plants and shrubs that decorate the place and make it attractive to camera-clickers from May until October.

I read recently that one of the budget airlines in the UK was seeking talks with the Greek Tourism Ministry about keeping direct flights going for at least the duration of November, since at present they stop at the end of October and thus, from then until late March or early April, to get from Rhodes to the UK involves changing planes at Athens airport. It's not difficult, but it is more expensive and worst of all time consuming.

To the casual observer it would appear quite simple. Keep the hotels and apartments open, restaurants and bars too, and the tourists will come. After all, they have a year-round tourist season in Cyprus, and the climate there is not so very different from that of Rhodes. But logistically it is a much more complicated equation to resolve.

Consider, the majority of those who work in the tourist industry in all of Greece work seven days a week and many do split shifts. For your average employee there is no such thing as having a life of on'e own for six or seven months. This is why the government introduced the "winter payments" system some years ago. During the season the company pays the employee, whilst also putting cash from the employee's gross salary into a "winter pension" which pays out during the months when there are no tourists, or at least, none other than a small percentage of independent and adventurous types who make their own way here and organise their own accommodation. Thus, during the winter months, when people take some rest and actually enjoy being able to have a social life and even take a vacation of their own, they receive payments from that fund into which both they and their employer had been paying during the duration of the season.

That was the idea at any rate. In recent times working folk have been very unhappy with government cuts to these winter payments. As far as I understand it, those who are entitled to them now only receive them for about half of the winter months. This they see as the government "stealing" from them. If I had a Euro for every time one of the drivers on my excursions used the word "Kleftes" [thieves] to describe the government [doesn't matter which one] when talking about this subject I'd be quite well off.

The thing is, the whole system seems to rely on employees being prepared to work flat out seven days a week for six or seven months. The idea of perhaps a five-day week for the majority and a whole part-time workforce covering the other two is alien to the authorities and would be a huge sea-change to the system. Job-sharing is virtually unheard of. For the season to become year-round would require root and branch changes not only to bureaocratic systems, but to the psyche of many Greeks, especially the authorities and employers. 

And, of course, it isn't simply a question of laying on more direct flights. True, there are those who would travel between Rhodes (all of the islands in fact) and the UK much more often during the winter months if they could get a direct flight. These would include not only the thousands of ex-pats living out here, but also Greek students studying in northern European universities and their families for starters. But for the airlines to turn a profit there would need to be a certain volume of tourist takers, people who would need to be serviced by restaurants, bars and accommodations out here, all of which are simply not geared up to provide the staff, since at present all the staff are dead beat by the end of October, owing to their having worked non-stop during the summer months.

The infrastructure of providing bedlinen, stocking hotel restaurants and providing transfers to and from the accommodations from the airports is complicated and very difficult to change without a great deal of re-structuring across the "employment" board as it were.

When one takes all of the foregoing into account, it's easier to understand why the extending of the summer season even by one month would be a major logistic challenge.

So, where does that leave us? Well, it leaves those fortunate enough to live out here the freedom to enjoy unspoilt and empty beaches while the daytime temperatures are still most acceptable and, although lots of eateries and bars are closed up during the weekdays and evenings, there is a huge choice of such places open during the lunchtimes on weekends. Plus village tavernas often run live music soirées once a week during the winter months, at which they often charge a fixed price per head for diners and thus ensure a full house every week. It leaves residents of islands like Rhodes, where the distances are large enough to merit the owning of a car, to enjoy the roads in a way they can never do during the season. Travelling back from Rhodes town on Sunday evening (around 7 to 8.00pm), for example, we hardly saw a vehicle once we'd passed Arhangelos, all the way to Lardos village. Bliss.

Incidentally, we finally got around to trying the relatively new Souvlaki house in Lardos square, called Mama's [or Mama...] something-or-other. It's right behind what used to be the Square Bar in premises that were once a small supermarket. The Square Bar morfed into Byzantio's and then into El Greco. Mama's (damned if I can remember the second word! is it "Grillhouse"? Not sure, "Sofia" even?) is right across the road from the traditional bar called Tzambiko's. Anyway, when it opened I was drawn to it initially by the fact that the designers of the place went for a nice traditional feel, white walls, blue door and window frames, check table cloths, the works.

We were due to arrive home in the dark after having been out for several hours and so decided that a budget meal out would be the best option to prevent night-starvation and so in we went to Mama's ...whatever. It's not the best place for vegetarians, since the menu is virtually one page of meat dishes. But they will fix you a very acceptable (and extremely well stuffed) pitta with salad, chips and Haloumi inside. So we ordered a couple of those, along with a green salad (lettuce, chopped spring onions and that funny fern-type stuff, is it fennel leaves?), a beer for me and a pineapple juice for her. Apart from the fact that the table next to us was occupied by an elderly bloke whom we often see walking the streets of Lardos, whom we've decided is either very lonely or perhaps slightly a pork-chunk short of a souvlaki, plus lonely too anyway, and he sat with his body facing us, not three feet from our table and sort of grinned at us for most of the time we were there, it was very comfortable. They even had some decent bouzouki music jingling away in the background, even though the TV at the far end was showing the ubiquitous football match, mercifully with the sound off.

We ate every last crumb, downed our drinks and prepared to depart in time to get home and watch Strictly - the Results Show, while I asked for the bill. We were stuffed for the princely sum of €14.10. Can't fault that.

Will the tourist season ever stretch into November, or maybe further? "Burp" not sure I'm bothered just now thanks. It's all I can do to walk back to the car.

(Incidentally, I'll talk a little about the refugee situation next time.)


  1. That's an interesting post John, I hadn't considered the implications of extending the season into November but we have often remarked how all the Greeks seem to work a 7 day week in summer. We assumed they put money by to keep them through winter, we weren't aware of the winter payments scheme. I think there are lots of people from UK who would consider a November break if there was a direct flight, it's such a depressing month here! Obviously there is a risk of rainy days, but it would be a risk worth taking. Maybe Easyjet or Ryanair will start it off soon.

  2. apparently ryanair extended their stanstead-chania till end of november.i also see their dublin-chania route commeces in the middle of march next year.apart fom the initial flight the cost is extremely good.also it is my chosen route although the downside being that i need to get to the other end of the island however i can suffer that as one direct flight for those of us in ireland is a massive plus

  3. Ryanair do Stansted - Athens, Athens - Rhodes (and the reverse) all through the winter. I know there's a change involved in the capital but the fares are extremely affordable. Might start planning for next year when retirement hits!

    1. Yea, fact is tho' a lot more people would travel if there were direct flights. It's the length of the journey that puts some (including us!) off. Mind you, daylight hours and the weather are even bigger reasons why we don't come over in the winter.