With a deluge of foreign visitors fueling seemingly nonstop development on once pristine Greek islands, local residents and officials are beginning to fight back, moving to curb a wave of construction that has started to cause water shortages and is altering the islands’ unique cultural identity.
Tourism is crucial in Greece, accounting for a fifth of the country’s economic output, and communities on many islands depend on it. But critics say the development has spiraled out of control in some areas, particularly on islands like Mykonos and Paros, where large-scale hotel complexes have mushroomed in recent years.
Teachers and other professionals in those and other Cycladic islands, a popular cluster in the Aegean Sea, have struggled to find affordable housing amid an influx of visitors and home buyers, fueling growing protests by locals over the repercussions of rampant tourism.
The islands, at the forefront of Greece’s tourism boom, are facing increasingly urgent calls to preserve their natural and cultural heritage.
The number of foreign arrivals to Greece broke another record in 2023, with 30.9 million in the first 10 months of the year, according to the Bank of Greece — an increase of 17 percent over the previous year and surpassing prepandemic tourism levels.
To meet such demand, 461 new hotels opened on Greece’s southern Aegean islands from 2020 to 2023, according to data from the Hellenic Chamber of Hotels compiled by the Athens-based Research Institute for Tourism. Of those, 126 were opened last year, according to the institute.
The proliferation of swimming pools has put a serious strain on water supply on Cycladic islands like Sifnos and Tinos, and the aggressive expansion of seaside bars over pristine beaches on many islands has generated a backlash from locals.
Conservationists and architects are also leading a push to preserve the character of the Cyclades, which they say is at risk of being obliterated amid a real estate-driven homogenization of vacation destinations.
The Athens-based Museum of Cycladic Art, which showcases the unique marble figurines that were produced on those islands in antiquity and influenced the course of Western art, is working with local authorities and associations to the same end.
Greece’s tourism minister, Olga Kefalogianni, pledged recently that untrammeled growth would no longer go unchecked.
“We have a clear vision and goal for the sustainability of destinations and of our tourism product,” she said last month at a conference in Athens. She said that going forward, there would be a greater emphasis on protecting the natural environment and cultural identity of individual destinations, with legislation being drafted to support that effort.
Those pressing for change are not convinced…