EXCLUSIVE: Santorini RESCUE plan moves ahead

SOS Santorini! Thanks to the twin scourges of mega-cruise ships and Instagram the popular Greek holiday island has rapidly earned itself the unenviable reputation as poster child for overtourism, along with a handful of other places like Barcelona, Venice and even Manhattan. But help may be on the way.

“Addressing overtourism is a priority for us,” said Greek Minister of Tourism Harry Theoharis in an exclusive interview in New York last month. “We just completed a study by the EBRD (European Bank for Reconstruction and Development) on two pilot destinations, Santorini and Rhodes to see exactly how we go about shaping DMOs (destination marketing organizations) and more actively managing development instead of sort of letting it drift. We’re also talking to mayors and formulating a plan to see how we can safeguard these destinations.”

“For the time being it’s not a case of overtourism,” Theoharis added, “it’s more a case of managing the flows more efficiently and ensuring that infrastructure is not as stressed as it currently is. And also putting more eco-friendly goals, mobility issues and such in place.”

Shock measures latterly reported could include having to get a ticket to see the sunset in clifftop Oia, the formerly fabulous and now tourist-trampled Cycladic village at the southern tip of the island, restrictions on some cruise ship disembarkations and a crackdown on overlong Airbnb rentals.

Airbnb, which is on a campaign to create better PR for the embattled company ahead of its planned IPO this year, had no comment.

But better times may finally be ahead for tourists looking for a more authentic experience in popular spots like Santorini and Rhodes.

“We want to create a new framework for the management of such global destinations…while adding sustainability to the mix in a way that doesn’t clash with the priorities of the local population,” said Theoharis. To that end, a plan to ban single-use plastics on the island may eventually take effect.

“We have to take some intermediate measures for Santorini as we cannot wait for this new kind of institution to start working, we must accelerate the process in 2020,” the Minister added.

—Anthony Grant

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