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Doujan Zammit, Party Islands and the Future of Greek Tourism

Jagger at AltamontIt's Sunday again. The Olympics have begun but I couldn't figure out what is on and when, so I bought Friday's Athens News, but they did not seem to know either. The focus this week in John Psaropoulos editorial and several related articles was Greece's image abroad and the fact that the only news that seems to come out of Greece these days are the kinds of stories that end up on Keith Olberman's Oddball, or in the case of this week, too gruesome to be on Oddball. The first story had to do with a young Australian tourist who was beaten to death by a Mykonos bar bouncer. The bouncer claimed that Doujan Zammit was stealing from the customers, which even if true does not deserve a death sentence. But this is an incident that could happen anywhere. In bars and clubs all over the world large men are hired as a deterrence to troublemakers. They may be intelligent and friendly but if so that is not why they were hired. They are there because they are big and scary if need be. Its like hiring a gorilla who will react at the first sign of trouble but whose purpose is to be so intimidating that there will rarely be any trouble. But as anyone who has ever had a pet gorilla knows, when they get into the alcohol cabinet or medicine chest they tend to loose control and can actually go on rampages, destroying furniture, tearing up trees and eating the neighbor's dog. This is the problem with hiring them to keep order at a nightclub where drugs and alcohol are everywhere and not always kept from the gorillas. The Rolling Stones found themselves in a similar predicament when they hired the Hell's Angels to provide security at their concert in Altamont. The angels went wild and beat up Marty Balin, the lead singer of Jefferson Airplane and beat and stabbed a guy to death. It probably did not help that the Hell's Angels were paid in beer and who knows what other undisclosed substances. In my little happy town in North Carolina, when there is a public event like a concert or a wine tasting they don't hire the local motorcycle gang, or ex-Green Beret's or frustrated sumo wrestlers. They hire cops. In uniform. They are off the clock and are not officially working as police officers but they are permitted to wear their uniforms and be hired out to keep order. When people get unruly they are professionals and know how to handle it. If the situation starts to get out of control they have a walkie-talkie and in three minutes there are other cops there.

Doujan ZammitDoujan Zammit was flown to Athens because the medical center was not equipped to handle his injuries. Whether he could have been saved if Mykonos had better facilities we will never know. But his father believes that an island the size of Mykonos should have more to offer those in need of medical attention, than a helicopter trip to Athens. When a small Greek island takes on the population of a city, they need the facilities of a city, and an island like Mykonos can afford it. The silver lining of this sad affair is that Doujan's organs were donated to save the lives of four people. Following his example two other families donated organs, which is rare in a country that for whatever reason has failed to embrace this practice. Ex-Mayor of Athens, Dimitris Avramopoulos who has now found himself no longer in charge of the Ministry of Tourism but is currently the Minister of Health used the occasion to praise the gesture and point out that it coincided with a new International Transplant Center being founded that will "give hope to Greeks and foreigners who are in our country". If they can get the organs. But give him credit for trying to paint a smiley face on this sad story. I suppose that's his job.

The other story was so gruesome that I hesitated writing about it, but I figure everyone has already heard about it so what the heck. This is of course the story about the man in Santorini who beheaded his wife's dog and then his wife and walked through the village with her severed head. This is the kind of story that the Greek Government freaks out about because it gives the impression that we are living in an insane asylum and now the whole world knows. Strangely enough, that same day there was another beheading story that took place in Canada that captured the attention of the international media even more because it was a random beheading that took place on a bus and the murderer actually.... well, I don't need to go into details but if you can imagine, it was worse than the Santorini beheading. But this is not about tourism despite the fact that it took place on Santorini and the killer worked in a restaurant. This was a relationship-gone-bad story and could have happened anywhere. In fact the police did not know what to do because they had never experienced anything like it. A quote from an unnamed government source puts it all in perspective: "Things like this happen once in a lifetime. Should they happen more often, then we would really have a problem". That's a fact. Especially when you send unarmed police trainees to apprehend a psychotic maniac with a severed head and a meat cleaver who then steals their patrol car and runs over two doctors on a motorcycle before being stopped in a hail of bullets that also managed to hit a Greek tourist. Once again Avramopoulos was called upon to save the day with this quote to the AP. "My thoughts are with the two doctors who were caught up in the middle of this terrible situation. They are both making a good recovery after suffering leg injuries." A nice bit of PR work, announcing to the world that we do have doctors in Greece, though two of them are temporarily out of commission. But my thoughts would have gone to the poor family of the woman and anyone who had to watch the endless television coverage of the incident who by now are going through psychological trauma too.

These two events kicked the Ministry of Tourism into high gear as they tried to control the damage the foreign media was inflicting on Greece. They condemned the 'party islands' and claimed the ministry never advertised them, though every ad you have seen of Greece in the last ten years has contained images of Santorini, and Mykonos which if are not considered 'party islands', I don't know what the term means. Its not a problem of 'party islands'. Its a problem of foreigners coming on holiday to a place where they are anonymous, drinking lots of alcohol, and blowing off steam. Take any destination and you will find bars and clubs where things get wild and people act without inhibitions. Most of us normal people(or old) are in bed by the time things really get started and we may hear the sound of a distant motorcycle or the neighbor struggling with his keys as the only evidence of the hedonism going on just down the street. I live in a college town in America so I know what goes on. But I don't believe that even the most wild party island is any worse than Chapel Hill on a Saturday night. The stuff that goes on in the Mykonos nightclubs is the same that is going on at the frat parties and sororities, and that is a whole different world than the Mykonos and the Chapel Hill I experience.

Of course with Greece it is all about image so Minister of Tourism Aris Spiliotopoulos is compelled to announce "Our plan is to make Greece a luxury destination-quality not quantity, and we are taking the initiative with exhibitions abroad and meetings with mayors and community leaders of some of the worst places."

Really? And what about the thousands of hotels that have been built for the tourists when quantity-not quality was the highway Greece was recklessly racing down? Should the people just go back to their fields and their fishing boats? What about the restaurants and fast food joints? Will they have to raise their prices and serve on expensive china? And how will the luxury market support the country? When Jude Law came to Sifnos he was helicoptered into a villa and catered to by a professional  company that supplies VIPs with all they desire. He probably did not buy as much as a pack of cigarettes on the island. How does this kind of tourism contribute to the economy of Greece? Seems to me like a plan for the rich to get richer. Its too late to say that the problem is the foreign tour operators who flood the country with low class tourists who act disrespectfully and give Greece a bad image. The sad truth is that these hedonistic young people put more money into the economy than all the Jude Laws and Madonna's put together, and the stories they tell at home is better advertising than all the cocktail parties and exhibitions that EOT spends its money on. The problem is not the young tourists. The problem is a lack of law enforcement by the Greeks. Club owners will continue to charge rip-off prices for bad drinks and promote elude behavior as long as nobody stops them. If they are not policed then they will police themselves with more results like Do Zammit that the government can use to announce their new brain injury center that is 'in the works'.

Remember before the 2004 Olympics when all the press wrote about was how unprepared Greece was and then as if by a miracle everything came together and Greece pulled off what may have been the best Olympics ever. That's because if they had failed it would have been complete humiliation; international style. Failing is out of the question when the whole world is watching. Now the world is watching again but in news segments like Oddball or page seven in your local paper or the front page of some silly British tabloid. Once again the Greek government, concerned about its image leaps to the country's defense. But you don't improve a situation with exhibitions or quotes to the international press about Greece being a luxury destination. You have to change the situation on the ground, not depend on your ability to change people's perception of it. There is nothing wrong with the tourists that come to Greece that a little law and order won't fix. If young tourists believe they can come to Greece and do whatever they want, then they will come. If they know there are limits they will still come. The allure of Greece is more than cheap drinks and sex. Its also about history, culture, the sea and the beauty of the country. But if you squander these attributes, for example keeping Akrotiri closed for 7 years, or allowing waste and garbage to be thrown into the sea, or drug addicts to shoot up right outside the mayor's office of the city hall of Athens, or restaurants to run rip-off operations under the nose of the authorities (and then change their name and reopen to continue once they are exposed), then you have nothing left but the sex and booze and these tourists you want to get rid of, you will be begging for. Never mind about the luxury travelers. They read the papers too. And anyway its too late for that. Greece has built the infrastructure for mass-market tourism and that's what they have with the good and the bad that comes with it. They just have to stop pretending that this is a monster that they did not unleash and stop blaming foreign tour operators and learn to tame the beast.

But thankfully this is a Greece that I only have to read about in the papers. Santorini and Mykonos in August is not my scene. Kea is wild enough. Rolando's was so busy last night he had to come outside and get air because he thought he was having a heart attack. Last week one of the taxi drivers fell asleep and smashed up his car. People are upset that the dock has not been fixed. Two days ago it was so windy on the beach that sand blew into my sadziki. And I still don't know the schedule of the Olympics. As long as it does not get much worse than this I think I can handle Greece. If what happens in Mykonos no longer stays in Mykonos but is trumpeted around the world then Mykonos needs to get its act together. But I think that a post about a rip-off restaurant on Santorini, or a bad hotel review, or a dirty beach, or an archaeological site or museum that is inexplicably closed, or a predatory taxi driver on internet message boards does as much damage to tourism as a random act of violence that could have happened anywhere. The problem is not Greece's image with the international media. The problem is within Greece. The good thing is that they are problems which can be solved if we focus on the problems themselves and not the fact that they are being exposed to the world. To the ministry of tourism I suggest that instead of going into damage control mode and trying to create the impression that mass tourism is something thrust upon us by unscrupulous foreign tour operators, and make ridiculous quotes that just create more embarrassment for the country, get on the streets and see the problems for yourself and figure out how to solve them. That is what successful societies do. Don't blame the tourists, the media, the tour operators or even the bar owners who will go as far as you allow them to. "A thief who is never caught becomes a king" is a Kurdish saying. Once the thieves rule the island or the country it is too late. The laws exist to protect everyone. If they are not enforced then they are only for show. You don't need to clean up the image of Greece. You need to clean up Greece. Then you can hire a PR firm to tell the world and their job is easy because all they have to do is tell the truth.

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