Zakynthos- A Case Study

The Troubles with Tourism: The Case of Zakynthos, Greece
By Prue Robinson

Trends across the Greek islands has shown that development and tourism and then over development and mass tourism of an island destination ultimately discourages tourists. However this is not the case in Zakynthos, yet…unfortunately. Numbers of tourists in 2006 increased, up by 3% in August and 2% in July from 2005, as quoted in a newspaper article calculated from arrival numbers.

It is often hoped that sustainable 'ecotourism' would be the ideal solution but in reality things are much more complex. Tourism can work as a double-edged sword, both contributing and detracting from the local people and environment. The economic benefits for local residents can be enormous, yet when they 'own' tavernas and bars on a 'Strictly Protected' nesting beach these needs and wants are difficult to balance.

© MEDASSET. Photo: C. Yung, 1998.
In Zakynthos the beaches in the National Marine Park have been restored, but at what price? Achieving restoration of 15-30m of the nesting section of the beach in Daphne, has come at the price of new illegal renovations, extensions, constructions and development and breaches of National and EC legislation and of the European Court of Justice ruling. The illegal buildings owners have been given promises through signed 'co-operative agreements' by, the Minister of Environment appointed, President of the NMPZ to somehow appease them to cooperate with other management measures and ultimately avoid a large fine from the European Court of Justice. Little genuine concern and consideration has been given to ecological concerns in Zakynthos, nor any measures taken to be more 'eco-friendly' in the future.

With local inhabitants resistant to any concept of 'conservation' or 'protection' of the environment, how can eco-tourism be integrated within a tourism profile? Ecotourism and 'sustainable development' must be given both local and political support to implement initiatives in a comprehensive and dynamic way. Adopting a new strategy of tourism, development and urban planning needs to work on all levels of Government, decision-makers and NGOs with the support and understanding of the local community. The trend in tourism in Zakynthos, despite being privileged with such a natural draw card as the loggerhead sea turtle, is the same as many other islands- development and 'conventional' tourism of sea, sand and sex rather than environmentally focused 'niche' tourism that is emerging in other parts of the world that is based on retaining the local environment. Tourists and the fickle tourism industry, will eventually no longer desire these 'package tours' to islands that are over-developed, polluted and destroyed and instead seek more 'natural' environments elsewhere and

the cycle goes on... Economic pressure from an eventual decline in tourism may be the catalyst for re-conceptualising the tourism and environmental protection model in Zakynthos and Greece, let us hope that is not too late for the turtles.

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