Does Paros want tourism?

Text: Avgi Kalogianni

Once upon a time there was a vision in Greece about tourism. In the 60s and 70s, when services of tourism started to develop en masse, some preconditions were created so that this development would have the right foundation. The School of Professions in Tourism and the Schools for Tourist Guides were founded with excellent teachers and results. The state-owned hotels “Xenia” were built by important architects; posters that looked like artworks were designed for the promotion of Greece; and movies were shot that made Greece famous around the world. The GNTO (Greek National Tourism Organization) planned policies of tourism to control and coordinate this effort.

In this framework tourism in Paros developed and gained fanatic friends from the world of art and culture, but also from everyday people who loved the island for its mildness and authenticity or as a scenic place to surf—on the waves of course and not on the internet (which is rather slow)! Paros is an island in the center of the Aegean with beautiful landscapes and the best marble in the world. It has great history and architecture; picturesque and traditional villages; distinct museums and important ancient, Byzantine, Venetian, and post-Byzantine monuments. Paros has beautiful trails and popular coasts for swimming and sea sports, and also secret, picturesque coasts known only to a few. Paros, together with small Anti-Paros and the adjacent Despotiko islands, have a unique stamp of nature and of civilization. Paros has Ageranos, theatre, dance and music groups plus great festivals. Paros also has an active foreign community, perhaps the only community in Greece that had its own journal, known as “Paros Life”, which printed its last issue last year.

“The island of Paros is a piece of marble that emerges from the waves of the Aegean”, writes the great Hellenist Andre Bonnard. However, the visitor to Paros will not find a lot of information about the history of the marble on the island that gave birth to it, and kept it in its belly until man discovered it, gave it form, and sent it all over the world. The only thing the visitor will see are the orifices of the underground tunnels where entrance is prohibited; and some derelict buildings of the 19th century, important statements of industrial architecture that keep asking themselves how long they will be standing there. Next to them, six modern statues also wonder about their future. The visitor won’t find clean footpaths on which to walk (with few exceptions), nor cycling paths to see the island.

Visitors are pleasantly surprised however when they arrive in Paros, often between Mykonos and Santorini, by the natural beauty and the history of the island but also by the sense of tranquility.

So why does Paros not manage to make a profit from its advantages? How can Paros increase its visitors, and does it want to? And in a great untouchable dream, extend the tourist season? Is it because there is no plan of development and the promotion of the island is left in the hands of eager amateurs? Is it because the promotion of island tourism is based on the one hand on improvisation, and on the other hand exclusively on volunteering and sponsorships, having as a principle that not a single euro should be spent? With an advertising campaign of dubious effectiveness and outdated style, what is Paros hoping for? Who is Paros talking to? We don’t know what will happen when the marvelous new airport opens. It may bring overwhelming changes and a flood of tourists. Then everyone will be happy! Or maybe not…

Many businesses have opened on the island, waiting for investments –large and small– to pay off, for the season to extend, and for the number of visitors to grow. With the current government having opened a war against mid-ranged businesses, it is a matter of survival for most of them. Besides this framework, private initiatives can also play an important role. Last May in Benaki Museum in Athens, during the Festival of Traditional Products of the Islands, only one business from Paros took part. Does Paros not have honey, does it not have wine, and does it not have cheese? How can the island advertise if not through its products? So, the big question that remains unanswered is the following: Does Paros want tourism? And if yes, what kind of tourism?

Summer 2014