Visiting Greece is a privilege that so many enjoy today with the rise in all-inclusive resorts on Rhodes can responsible tourism still exist? Without tourism the economy would probably collapse on islands like Rhodes, people were cushioned from worst of the financial crisis because of tourism, though signs of austerity have still been seen and felt by many that live here.
Tourism in Rhodes
Rhodes has changed over the years that we have been here, there has been an expansion of resort building with more all-inclusive and large resorts. A very large number of people book package tours and stay in the resorts. Many come back year after year and though some explore further afield, the majority stay where they are.
Many still visit Greece as independent travellers, booking their own flights and accommodation, island hopping and enjoying everything that Greece has to offer. It’s one of the safest places in the world, when you’re on a small island it’s like going back to the 1950s where people smile and help each other. The philosophies of filoxenia and filotimo are very much alive.
However, there are a growing number of tourists who visit a very different Greece. With over-tourism in places like Santorini, where many just come to have that iconic Instagram image, they never see or experience the real Greece. Others go for the package holiday staying in purpose-built resorts with more opting for all-inclusive every year.
It is a well-known fact that where all-inclusive resorts are dominant the local economy suffers. It has been seen in other areas of the world and we are concerned about the impact of it here. They are a seen as a cheaper holiday option for many, with food and drink included it’s hard not to think of the value of your holiday when you have children or a budget to think of. I understand why people book an all-inclusive holiday.
There is a convenience that these holiday packages offer to people who are busy working and bringing up families. They don’t have to go to the bother of finding flights and researching accommodation. For some it means they don’t have to take any money on holiday at all, they simply enjoy what they see as the free stuff.
We have seen the smaller locally run places being upgraded and new ones opened, the next generation is transforming small local businesses. They can never compete with the big travel companies. These companies pay a very small amount to the owners of much of the accommodation across the island to have exclusive rights and guarantee guest numbers.
I understand why some choose the big resorts, when you have a family and a budget it is an easy option. I understand why you book a package deal, you may only have one holiday this year and you want it to be great.
As mass tourism and its consequences are being felt in many locations, here on Rhodes there should be a sustainable tourist plan in place. One that makes sure that international companies aren’t calling the shots for once. Approximately 70% of the island’s economy is reliant on tourism so standing up to those companies isn’t easy.
We as tourists have the most power. We can choose the way we book our holidays and where we stay. You can choose to book your own flight and your own accommodation. You can choose to stop lining the pockets of the faceless companies that decide the season on the island is only 6 months long.
The months of April and November are beautiful on Rhodes but direct flights and holiday packages don’t extend into those months. Occasionally one operator will have a couple of flights that fall just outside the 6 months they have decided everyone should visit here, that’s not enough to encourage tourism outside the summer months. Yet one of the best ways to combat over-tourism and its consequences is to spread out the visitors over the whole year.
All-inclusive the consequences
The negative effects are rarely explained. The social, economic and environmental impacts in many places in the world can only be described as horrific.
The economic impact of all-inclusive
Often workers in the large resorts face longer hours and lower wages, we have seen that the wages in the smaller resorts here have gone down in the last 10 years. That is a knock-on effect where the local businesses suffer and drop wages to compete with the larger hotel chains.
The irony is that for half the year there are far more jobs on Rhodes than permanent residents. However, too many of those jobs are short-term contracts with unpaid overtime and incredibly low pay. The stories of those that don’t have proper contracts, where IKA (the Greek version of National Insurance) isn’t paid, and where many don’t know when they will even get paid are too many. Some get 1 day off a week but for many they work 7 days a week throughout the holiday season, hoping to make enough to survive a winter without work.
The United Nations Environment Program found that 80% of travellers’ expenditure never makes it to the destination country it goes to international companies, airlines and hotels chain and not to local businesses or workers.
We recently visited a bar in Rhodes town who have found that this year their business hugely reduced. They have discovered that the hotels near them inside the town have been changed over winter and reopened as all-inclusive this season.
We passed by one while enjoying an evening stroll around the streets of the new town with its art deco Italian buildings and cafe lifestyle. The evening air was lovely and cool after a very hot day. However, the open verandas on one place had been glassed off and everyone was sat in air-conditioning with their wrist bands on. The bars and tavernas around it were far too quiet for an evening in July.
Interestingly there have been reports of hotels in other parts of the world being bullied into providing all-inclusive facilities at very low prices by multinational tour operators. We hope this hasn’t and never does happen here.
Social impact of all-inclusive
Socially there is an effect that impacts all areas of life for those living on the island. Even though many in the resorts never leave, the presence of the tourists still raises the cost of living in Rhodes.
When all those extra itinerant workers arrive from around Greece and elsewhere they need accommodation, this demand then raises the rental price for everyone. For locals as their businesses suffer the desire to try and make money by renting out housing that would have once housed locals as holiday lets impacts everyone.
Beaches are all open to the public in Greece, yet on Rhodes, many get covered in sun-beds for the use of hotel guests with wristbands only. In some cases, access to the beach is through the hotel effectively cutting off a public beach and reserving it for the privileged holidaymaker.
Many choose an all-inclusive holiday because they see it as being a safer option. If you are visiting Greece and particularly the islands you really have very few safety concerns. Levels of crime are far lower here than elsewhere, all you really need is a little common sense.
Environmental impact of all-inclusive
Environmentally, we have seen the small local airport struggle with the increase in flights and passengers each year. Recently privatised and now owned by a Greek/German consortium there are improvements are underway. It will be interesting to see if it can keep up as more large resorts are being planned, or whether the rumoured second airport in the south of Rhodes will be built.
A new oil-powered power station has been completed and opened in the unspoilt south of the island. There will be a long term impact from that on the natural environment and health. Many found it difficult to see it being built, local efforts to stop it failed. I’m sure there will have been financial incentives to open it rather than going for more environmentally sound options of wind, solar or wave power which the island has plenty of
Water is a scarce resource at the best of times on the Rhodes, for several years we’ve experienced the water being cut off regularly throughout the hot summer months. While showers run on beaches and an ever-expanding number of infinity pools are built and filled. It is good to see some of the large developments have had to install methods for recycling their wastewater. Though that won’t cover all those showers and pools.
Food is grown in large quantities in many places around the island but nowhere near enough to feed the summer influx, some food and drink will be imported from around Greece, but still more from overseas. Some larger resorts cater to visitors from just one country and bring the majority of their food and drink from that country to satisfy those guests.
In local supermarkets and other businesses close to resorts, we see prices increase every season. With such a short business year they have to charge more, despite the season only being 6 months many have to pay rent on the buildings for 12.
Local people are being pushed out in so many ways. One of the worst we’ve seen recently was the consequences felt by residents of a huge new resort in the south of the island. The water park has a 2 story slide that sits right next to private property, looking onto the balcony of a villa that once had a sea view. I have no idea how planning permission works in Greece, but morally this is wrong.
Waste, the amount created and where it goes. When you go on holiday you rarely think about what happens to the waste created by your holiday. Everything you consume creates waste that has to go somewhere. With the huge population increase on the Greek islands during the short tourist season that also equals in a lot more waste and the hotel sector does not focus on its waste management. Current research has shown that typically, a hotel guest can produce 1 kg of waste per day.
The terms responsible and sustainable tourism have been around for a while now but what does it mean. They are both any form of tourism that can be consumed more responsibly.
Responsible tourism is tourism which:
- Minimises negative social, economic and environmental impacts
- Generates greater economic benefits for local people and enhances the well-being of host communities
- Improves working conditions and access to the industry
- Involves local people in decisions that affect their lives and life chances
- makes positive contributions to the conservation of natural and cultural heritage embracing diversity
- Provides more enjoyable experiences for tourists through more meaningful connections with local people, and a greater understanding of local cultural, social and environmental issues
- Provides access for physically challenged people
- Is culturally sensitive, encourages respect between tourists and hosts, and builds local pride and confidence
Can all-inclusive resorts be responsible? Yes if they follow those guidelines. When choosing your holiday or resort look at the credentials of the place you are visiting. Are they a part of the local community or a faceless organisation. Will you be staying somewhere with a tase of Greece or could you be anywhere in the world.
There are locally run all-inclusive places on the island and they do tend to put more back into the local economy and in some cases treat their staff better than those run by the multinational tour operators. They come in different shapes and sizes to fit all budgets.
Responsible tourism is a term used a lot in the tourist industry today though very few understand what it really means.
The UN World Tourism Organisation surprisingly set out a code of ethics for tourism in 1999.
There is still hope for Rhodes, in June the EBRD (European Bank for Reconstruction and Development) announced a newly funded pilot programme, the Destination Management System aimed at Rhodes and Santorini.
Official reports from 2011 stated that the island was oversaturated in terms of tourism. You might be interested to know that visitor numbers have been increasing between 6% and 11% during the summer months for the last few years. The island has a permanent population of around 100,000 in the height of summer arrivals at the airport exceed 1 million in just one month.
Maybe this will go some way to curb and control future development and make sure it happens sustainably for the environment of this beautiful island. Interestingly they are looking at ways of diversifying tourism on the island moving away from the beach, bar, pool type that the island has concentrated on.
How you can support local businesses
You know the consequences but your budget dictates that you have to book that package deal then at least try to find ways to support the local economy while you are in Rhodes.
Think of the island and people while you are in Greece, here are 10 ways you can help support the economy.
- Step out of that resort and experience the real Rhodes.
- Sit in a small local taverna and taste local produce, most local tavernas will also use locally grown vegetables, many have their own little garden close by. The tomatoes here are amazing and you really should try them at least once.
- Buy a small gift to remind you of your visit from a local shop. The small kiosks you see at the side of the roads are all locally run. They have everything including homemade spirits in some.
- Wander around a village and have a frappe and pastry in the local bakery.
- Relax on a sun-bed at a beach away from your hotel. Most of the concessions are run by local families.
- Have fun or learn a new skill on the water using a company you know is local.
- Explore in a car for a day and discover the real island. You’ll be amazed at how much there is to see. There are many free places to visit on the island including the ruined castles at Monolithos, Kritinia, Haraki and Archangelos
- Take a local tour with a local tour company and meet some local people. Taste locally made products and take some home with you. Made on the island is honey, wine and souma the local firewater. You can also pick up mountain herbs and locally grown nuts.
- Pop into a local cafe and buy some sandwiches for a picnic on the beach. You’ll probably make new friends of the owner while you’re there. Not all the beaches have umbrellas you can still find empty beaches if you look.
- Tip the staff where you are staying, eating or drinking. The money they earn goes back into the economy and their wages are lower than you would ever think.
When you are planning on coming here please save a little extra to spend in the local economy. Keep the island unique and support local families and local business.
If you only stay in your hotel you will miss out on the unique experience of visiting Greece and everything it has to offer.
To help alleviate the problem of over-tourism try and visit out of the months of July and August, you’ll avoid the extreme heat and have a lot more space on the beach. We realise that with school age children it’s not always possible but October and May are fabulous here.
When you make the effort to speak to and meet people here they will make the effort to make sure you have a great holiday. People like Achilles in his kiosk with his own home-brewed drinks, honey, olive oil and herbs will give you a piece of Greece you’ll never forget.
How to book independently
If having read this you do decide it’s time to change the way to book your holiday but have no idea where to start then here are some tips for you:
Booking independently does take more time but it is also a lot more flexible for you. You have more choice over dates and times once you are free from the tour operators.
You can save money and sometimes pay a little extra, it all depends on when you go, what type of accommodation you want and how you want to spend your time.
We had friends visit recently for a short 4-day stay, they saw a deal online, then researched further and found that booking their flights and accommodation separately saved them money and meant that they could fly at a time that suited them better.
Research, research, research. It will take you longer to book but it will be worth it.
There are several flight comparison sites and lots of different ways to get to your chosen Greek destination. Kiwi is a good independent travel agent they guarantee your connections even if it’s with different airlines. Skyscanner and Kayak regularly come out on top of the flight search sites. There are many others too.
Make sure you check for the extras, taking a suitcase, booking a seat and having a meal can all add up depending on the airline you use. Also, look at alternative ways of getting to your destination you could via another European city and save money.
There is no substitute for research, check booking.com, Airbnb and TripAdvisor. Look at the reviews, go on message boards on social media, Facebook or elsewhere and ask around. Often if you contact the accommodation owner direct you can also get a discount on the rate seen online as all the online booking systems charge owners to advertise with them. Now you are booking independently you could even stay in more than one place on the island, see a different side of the place and spread your tourist money around a bit more.
You can choose so many different types of accommodation. If there’s a large group of you look at hiring a villa, there are so many on the island now that you’ll be spoilt for choice.
Small family-run hotels still exist and there is everything available from boutique ones in the old town, self-catering rooms in Pefkos or places in the hills. Check the most recent reviews and remember you get what you pay for.
In the hills we have stayed in and recommend: Thomas Hotel in Monolithos, Hotel Nymph in Salakos and Hotel Ataviros in Embonas.
In Rhodes town we have stayed in and recommend: Avalon Boutique Suites Hotel, Evdokia Boutique, Hotel Anastasia, Camelot Traditional and Classic Hotel, Rodos Park Suites and Spa and Best Western Plus Hotel Plazza
(We will only recommend places we have stayed in and experienced)
You will need to get yourself to and from the airport. In Rhodes, it’s fairly simple, you can get a taxi, local bus, VIP transfer bus or hire a car. Again TripAdvisor and online forums are a good place to get recommendations.
Taxis on the island have a set fee for all destinations that are published on boards the taxi ranks. Watch out for short journeys in taxis, sometimes you’ll come across a taxi driver that wants to put several people in a vehicle and charge you all full price for the trip individually rather than splitting it between all of you.
You must make sure you take out holiday insurance. As you’re not booking through a company you don’t have their protection. Flying within Europe with a European airline you are covered for delays and cancellations. If there is a problem make sure you keep in touch with the place you are staying and let them know. They are usually very understanding.
If you’ve got a 2-week holiday on the Greek island of Rhodes why not take a couple of nights on one end of your holiday and visit another island. With Symi and Halki less than 2 hours away it’s easy to add to your independent experience. Part of the joy of independent travel is that you get to decide exactly when and where you go.
Lastly, as the tourist and traveller, you have the real power. How you choose to spend your hard-earned money shapes the places you visit and the lives of the people there.
What do you think? Have you been to Greece or Rhodes? What’s your view of all-inclusives? If you enjoyed this article and found it useful please comment and share. Thank you