Archive for August, 2010
It has been a tough year for all of us. We have been bombarded with salary cuts, seen our friends dismissed from work and felt the consequences of the financial crisis in all aspects of our daily lives. Nothing has been more frightening than the daily “gloom and doom” situation that the media propagate.
The summer time provides the time for short-term escapism. And this is something we all need. Therefore, this article has a summer theme.
Can holidays save us? Europe is experiencing a period of stagnation. Tourism is one of the major EU industries but requires special attention and planning. It is a sector that is doing well but can be developed further. The Lisbon Treaty provides room for further progress in this particular field. Discussions are already taking place at the EU level on the prospects for tourism. Nevertheless, EU plans should not remain on paper. The EU should grasp the opportunity to extend its policy remit. Such policy extension requires imaginative responses to problems and a combination of instruments from various EU policy fields, as tourism cross-cuts many other EU policies (environment, economy, regional development). If the EU wants to be productive in the field of tourism it has to be more flexible and creative. It has to set up clearly defined targets and engage all the different actors in tourism in a bottom-up manner.
The right to have a holiday has been consolidated after long social battles. It is interesting to see how European citizens see it as an “acquis”. The travel/holiday sector has been in decline due to the financial crisis but did not suffer a catastrophic blow. The latest statistics show that the sector is on the road to gradual recovery.
I see all the “ups” and “downs” of tourism, as I come from a tourist destination, an island of the Aegean Sea called Mykonos. I feel privileged to have grown up in Mykonos. It is a beautiful island with traditional white houses, windmills, beaches and rocky scenery. It has many facets – archaeological (neighbouring Delos was one of the most important Ancient Greek cities), folkloric (a multiple number of feasts, religious celebrations, cultural events), natural (unspoilt beaches, rocky spaces, sun, sea), and recreational (party atmosphere, relaxation). One should not forget the hospitality of its people, who have made the island a very special destination for all kinds of visitors.
Mykonos is a hub of multiculturalism. It is open to people from all backgrounds and all aspects of life. It has never been “exclusive”. It is a cosmopolitan place, a global mosaic, a real picture of our ecumenical world. Everybody is welcome: no ageism or sexism is permitted. Mykonos hosts many different “tribes”: party animals, curious visitors, beach lovers, fashion people, artists. There is an uninstitutionalised respect for “minorities” as the island has a strong gay following. Mykonos is a place which put into practice “acceptance” long before it became the norm. I sometimes feel that Mykonos does a lot more to fight stereotypes than many of the established national/EU policies. Tourists make new friends in the island and they meet each other there every year. There has been a strong link between tourists and the local people who treat them as more than mere customers. Tourism is a form of culture and communication. Many of the tourists we met through the years became our friends, and play a part in our lives. We were invited to their weddings, visited them in their places of residence, felt their pain in difficult moments, and shared the sorrow when they lost a relative or a partner.
Mykonos is a small part of the world that has been at the forefront of changes: various artistic, musical and fashion trends occupied the island for as long as they lasted. Mykonos also became a hot spot for sexual liberation. It survived the HIV epidemic and struggles with drugs. It has paid the price of uneven environmental protection and unplanned construction. It now faces the burden of the financial crisis. Over the years, the island has changed a lot. From a trendy hippy destination to a place that the media portrays as an endless binge drinking party. Spontaneous communication has been threatened by big impersonal bars and a nouveau riche lifestyle.
Still, notwithstanding some negative development, the island has the power to keep much of its beauty intact. It is a “topos” where different wishes can be fulfilled. Nevertheless, it requires special attention, and I do hope that Mykonos will become a space where policies of alternative touristic development will be developed in the near future.
Below the superficial surface of the media coverage of Mykonos one can see that the local people have their own worries and problems. Life was never easy for the islanders and it is not easy today. Inhabitants of islands have long suffered from the cut-off effects of insularity. Still they manage, as they have a strong spirit of survival. It is worth talking to local people in order to grasp their feelings and fears. Each year is one of agony. Will tourists come? What will be the impact of the crisis? What will happen with the water reserves? Will there be enough boat connections with Piraeus? What about our lives? The education of our children? When will we have sufficient medical coverage in our local health centre?
For many of us, Mykonos offers a space for self-reflection and peace. It offers us the time to reconsider the practices of everyday life, to think about the future. The eternal light of the island is a source of energy and life that contrasts with the dark mediatised projections of our times. Mykonos inspired artists through the years. It still inspires today. It makes you inward-looking as you want to stare at the sea and think. It also makes you extroverted as you want to go out and communicate with the different “tribes” of the island.
I would like to wish you a happy holiday. For those of you who will be visiting Mykonos, just give me a shout. I will be the one sitting in front of the port café with my books, notes and laptop, agonising over the future of the EU. Research never ends!