Mania Ambatzis

Interview: Yiannis Ragos

We urgently need to focus on economic, social and environmental sustainability

The pandemic, its economic consequences and its ecological footprint are the three unknown factors in the equation that makes up this year’s tourist season. And on top of that, an opportunity to reflect on the tourist model befitting Paros and Antiparos. The Chair of the Paros-Antiparos Hoteliers Association sets out to Parola her own proposal for a convincing solution to this equation.

As, in recent decades, tourism on Paros and Antiparos has been developed as a highly productive monoculture, what is the economic, labour-market and social impact of the Covid-19 pandemic?
The scope of entrepreneurship development in the tourist sector is tremendous – construction and technical services, multifarious trade, and so on. It comes as no surprise that the pandemic afflicting all sectors of the economy worldwide will affect tourism and tourism-related activities. Unfortunately, the after-effects are interrelated – from income reduction and job loss to social isolation of groups of people or even entire regions for health safety reasons, we should be expecting to feel the impact of the pandemic for a long time.

What are the basic needs of the industry, based on the survey you conducted on your members?
The survey was carried out in order to investigate the hoteliers’ concerns and intentions for this season. All entrepreneurs wish to contribute in the best possible way to the common effort to rescue this season, but there are objective problems – mainly lack of liquidity and uncertainty at every level. Cancellations, deposit refunds, fixed operating costs, and health protocols generate an increasing need for working capital that is currently unavailable to hoteliers. The terms and conditions of government loans for working capital are practically driving small seasonal hotels, such as ours, out of the market. We’ve been left to deal with this situation on our own devices without any clear-cut procedures, clarifications or support whatsoever, not even at the level of civil liability.

The expected reduction in the number of visitors to Paros this year could provide some sort of relief on the environment. In contrast, disposable plastic is all around us due to strict health safety protocols. What will this mean for the ecological “balance”?
The natural environment is our greatest asset. The beauty of the landscape, the harmony of nature, the magnificence of the mountains and the endless coastline, combined with the services provided, attract visitors to our islands. We therefore believe it is everybody’s duty to shield our environment, no matter whether tourist flows are on the rise or not. It all starts with us. If rubbish overflows from bins, no visitor will respect our islands, simply because it is we who do not seem to respect them. So, before setting out to blame tourists for burdening the environment on our islands, we had better review our overall attitude and vision for the environment, protect it with our own behaviour and practice first, and then instruct our visitors accordingly.

Paros and Antiparos hosted about 800,000 visitors last year. What are the risks of hypertourism?
What matters is the time frame of tourist visits. It is self-evident that squeezing hordes of visitors in the two peak summer months takes its toll on our islands’ resources. For a few years now, a number of steps have been taken to spread out the tourist season in order to disperse visitors throughout the year. To achieve this, it takes a lot of effort and, especially, the joint forces of all local actors and entrepreneurs. The bearing capacity of our ecosystems should be taken into serious consideration. Worldwide, a rising trend in tourism is sustainability. The Paros-Antiparos Hoteliers Association have come up with related proposals that we intend to present in due time.

Is the pandemic, after all, an opportunity to fully reconsider the tourism model of Paros and Antiparos? What would you suggest?
We believe that we don’t need to wait for a pandemic in order to keep our goals under constant review. We need well-meaning and constructive criticism, cooperation and creativity to move forward and stay ahead. Beyond that, there’s an urgent need to focus on sustainability: economic, social and environmental.

Your recent election as Chair of the Paros-Antiparos Hoteliers Association took place in a totally different context than today’s. What were your initial goals and to what extent have they been affected by the pandemic?
It is true that at that time we could hardly imagine what awaited us. The agenda included, and still does, unresolved issues in our industry, our islands’ cultural landscape, and environmentally-aware proposals for our hotels. At the same time, we set out to draw up proposals for the Municipality and, specifically, the Tourism Committee, to consider. We are still on these issues, but not as top-priority tasks. Urgent needs have now arisen among our members, and it is essential that we meet them. Since the onset of the pandemic, and before every other agency, we have responded sending letters of requests and inquiries to the Ministries, having teleconferences with Ministers, promoting media extroversion, constantly informing our members of instructions, legislation and all the latest news on the pandemic, pitching in and helping out wherever and however needed. What cheers us up is that all this work has paid off, and earned us experience – this is what gives us the strength to carry on.