Mayor of Athens says tourism in Greece isn’t ‘viable’ anymore as each visitor only adds €0.40 to the economy

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Summers in Athens are about historical sights like the Parthenon, colorful markets and plates of souvlakis. But lately, it’s gotten hard to cope with the number of people chasing those exact things. 

Authorities in the Greek capital of Athens have lamented the city’s tipping into overtourism territory, making crowds unmanageable. To control that, the city capped the number of tourists who could visit the Acropolis to 20,000 last year, as tourists flocked to Greece beyond just the summertime. 

Tourism is a double-edged sword in Greece. The number of visitors has exploded beyond control, growing by 120% between 2019 and 2023. But since Greece derives 25-30% of its GDP from tourist activities—with that number soaring to 90% on the island of Santorini—cracking down on it isn’t easy.

Still, the headache of excessive visitors and its impact on local communities and the city itself has made tourism in its current form isn’t sustainable, Athens’s Mayor Harris Doukas said.         

“Each visitor brings €0.40 to the city, and we haven’t seen this money yet,” Doukas told Euronews. “We need to find a way to make tourism viable.”

Tourists in Monastiraki Square in Athens, Greece

Tourists in Monastiraki Square in Athens, Greece, pictured in June 2024.

Hilary Swift—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Last year, a whopping 33 million tourists visited Greece—over thrice the country’s population. More tourism means a greater economic boost by propping up local business activities. But they’ve resulted in a disproportionate strain on infrastructure, housing and environmental resources. These are particularly pressing as Greece grapples with the aftermath of wildfires in recent years. 

“It turns out that the pressures exerted by tourism on the environment are linked to the change of land uses (due to the creation of new infrastructure and other facilities for tourist use), and specifically with the expansion of the urban environment at the expense of the natural,” a government report on sustainable tourism found as part of a broader effort to change Greece’s approach towards tourism.  

Earlier this year, Greece introduced a “climate crisis resilience tax” that aims to raise funds that can help it address natural disasters by charging tourists through their hotel bills.    

Managing overtourism in a delicate yet firm way

Given its relationship with the tourism and hospitality sectors, Greece has tried to manage its visitors with a raft of measures, including extending the vacation season to a longer period and fining beach-bound tourists who take up too much space with their sunbeds and umbrellas. 

“Our goal is to protect both the environment and the right of citizens to access the beach freely, and to preserve our tourism product as well as healthy entrepreneurship,” Economy Minister Kostis Hatzidakis said in a statement, according to Agence France-Presse.

Travel demand was nearly zilch three years ago at the pandemic’s peak. But it has since come back roaring—and several other European cities are also facing the heat of it. Italy and the Netherlands are grappling with a phenomenon similar to Greece’s.

In response to the threat of overtourism, Amsterdam has curbed the construction of new hotels and plans to limit cruise ship dockings in its harbor, while Venice has introduced an entry fee for its visitors as of this summer. 

With visitor numbers steadily rising, countries now face a delicate balance between promoting and limiting tourism, especially where it’s a crucial piece of the economy.

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