Thursday, 6 June 2019

Down the Tubes?

The season's well and truly up and running now, as the roads around here well testify. This island is still a wonderful place to visit, at least, parts of it are, yet I can't help feeling that the authorities here are hell-bent on killing the goose that lays the golden egg.

I don't, as a rule, like to dwell on the negatives, but the occasional post of 'realism' is probably the right thing to do. So, this post may seem somewhat less cheery than most, but I shall endeavour to inject a modicum of humour next time. Stick with it until then. I'll say please!!

The Rhodes 'powers that be' are perpetually telling us in the local press about how the numbers of tourists are up by 5% here and 10% there, year-on-year. It must be good, surely? Hmm, well, I'm not so sure. I'll illustrate.

My very good friend is the head chef at a restaurant on the edge of Pefkos. She is an excellent chef and the restaurant where she works has a very good reputation. As far back as the last week of April, she told us that the place was already almost full. I guess we assumed that meant she'd be pretty busy by the time we got to the end of May. Yet, when we spoke last week, we asked her if she was rushed off her feet now and she replied that the restaurant was barely half-full the previous evening.

See, the thing is, in the past most people staying in this area would have been in self-catering accommodation, or at most a modest hotel where they would perhaps get breakfast included. Even today true Grecophiles know that eating out is the heart and soul of a good Greek holiday. Yet the increase in visitor numbers is largely down to the proliferation of the dreaded 'all-inclusive' holiday, which is being ever more aggressively sold to the UK's prospective holidaymakers by the tour operators.

Some adverts on UK TV try to make a virtue out of the advertiser being a company that is exclusively 'all inclusive.' The result? Yes, more people are getting off aeroplanes at the airport, but there is less revenue for all the small businesses across the island, across the country (the world, in fact). Our friend says that she can't remember a time when the restaurant was so empty at the end of May-beginning of June. All the while the local government announces that tourism on Rhodes is booming.

I'm only a very tiny voice, but I beg anyone who reads this, or considers taking a holiday abroad, to remember...

1. All Inclusive hotels bleed very little income into the local economy. Most of the profits go to the owners, many of whom are not even Greeks. Yes, they provide some labour, but it's usually very poorly paid and involves people working ridiculously long hours, seven days a week for six months. They have no life to speak of whatsoever during the summer.

2. I worked on excursions for eleven out of the 14 years that I've lived here. I would be a rich man if I had a Euro for every time a guest on my coach asked me to recommend a restaurant at which to eat out. I'd reply, "but surely you're 'all-inclusive,' you get your meals at the hotel, right?" "Yes," they'd reply, "but the food's awful." Either that or they were so fed up with the same food and the same faces (all of their own nationality, or maybe from other countries, but none of their fellow diners was a Greek), that they were desperate to try something else. One might argue that, well, there you are then, money going into the local economy! OK, so one meal out of a few hundred, when fifteen years ago all those people would have been enriching their lives by eating out in local restaurants and enjoying the hospitality of the local folk.

There can be no doubt, and I stress - it's not the fault of the tourists, they're simply swallowing the propaganda put out by the tour operators - but 'all-inclusive' is relentlessly homogenising the planet and killing off local businesses at a rate of knots.

Do yourself and the local people who live in tourism areas the planet over a favour, holiday 'small' and feel your life being enhanced by the whole travel experience. I've been doing some sums of late, and it's a truth to say that if you find a good quality, modest apartment to stay at, arrange your own flights and transfer, then eat out sensibly, perhaps doing it like the locals, you'll probably pay the same or even less than you would by going 'all inclusive'.

But your abiding memories of that vacation will be infinitely more satisfying. Plus, a few less locals will have closed their businesses due to lack of custom.

Also, since we've lived here in Kiotari, at least five (or more) huge new hotels have been built in our part of the island, all on 'green field' sites. These edifices cater for hundreds, even thousands of guests, virtually all of whom are 'all inclusive' holidaymakers. I was trying to work it out, but even by modest calculations, the extra vehicles on the road in the south of Rhodes from the thousands of hotel guests now staying here hiring cars during the season must have added around 25 to 30% to the traffic on the modest roads around here.

The road system anywhere south of Kolymbia is two-lane only. Plus the roads are often twisty-turny and thus don't allow for overtaking in very many places. It seems to me that the authorities here have given very little thought to how the infrastructure of the island is meant to cope with all the extra cars that all these new guests are hiring. 

Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to discourage you from coming to Rhodes. There are still wonderfully remote places up in the hinterland, with quiet villages and little old men playing backgammon in the kafeneions. All that it still here to be discovered. But facts are facts and the coast roads are being put under much greater strain than they were ten years ago. There are probably five or six thousand more people staying in the area between Lindos and Lahania than there were a decade ago. Probably 90+% of those are all inclusive too.

The power to change all of this is in the hands of those who take summer holidays in foreign countries. It would be so great if more and more people would think a while before booking what the tour operators thrust at them.

Right, rant out of the way, the next post - I promise - will be a riot. 


  1. Totally agree. My sister in law only said last night that they aren't going AI anymore. Food awful, repetitive and you get back the next day what isn't eaten the previous day, and the drinks are not nice. And that isn't even here!

  2. John--great article.Do so agree with you. The AI is killing little businesses. We people watch in Rhodes on our way to and from Tilos--and the number of people wondering around with their bracelets on not spending any money is awful. Luckily this scourge will NEVER reach Tilos!

    1. When me and the better half walk down to the sea for an evening swim, we often remark on the fact that almost every tourist one sees has one of those armbands on. It's like they're on day-release from the nursing home! I'd consider it a defeat to ever have to wear one of those, apart from if I were myself a patient in hospital. It brands one as a tourist sheep. Harsh words? Call me a tourist snob if you like - I don't care any more!