The social cost of Tourism
Cornell Hotel and Restaurant Administration Quarterly
Aug 1999

Authors: Leo Paul Dana
Volume: 40
Issue: 4
Pagination: 60-63
ISSN: 00108804
Subject Terms: Studies
Social impact
Economic impact
Cultural change
Classification Codes: 9175:  Western Europe
8380:  Hotel & restaurant industries
1200:  Social policy
1110:  Economic conditions & forecasts
Geographic Names: Greece


The experience of the Greek island of Ios presents a cautionary tale for those would establish a sustainable-tourism industry that does not overwhelm or unduly alter the local culture. A before-and-after field study of Ios found that tourism caused the local culture and economy to change from its traditional agricultural orientation to one of catering to visitors. The result was that most traditional occupations, such as growing olives and raising cattle, were abandoned, with a concomitant deterioration of cultural institutions.

Copyright Cornell University. School of Hotel Administration Aug 1999

Full Text:

A Case Study of Ios

Residents of the Greek island of Ios welcomed tourists, but they may have ended up with more than they bargained for.

Evidence of human habitation of the island of Ios stretches back at least to 3000 B.C.E., when the Cycladic civilization developed. Although the Phoenicians subsequently called this island Phoenicia, the earlier name has stuck, and the island group that includes Ios is known as the Cyclades. Inscriptions on Greek coins indicate that Homer was buried on Ios-a plausible claim, since tombs from the Hellenistic period are found on the north side of the island.

A part of Greece since the Protocol of London in 1829, Ios has been in many hands since the Phoenicians departed, including Ionians, Romans, Franks,Venetians, and Ottoman Turks. Ios was allied with the Athenian League to avoid Persian occupation during the years before Rome's ascendancy. An alliance with Rhodes in 220 B.C.E. failed to stop Roman occupation, however. Crusaders rolled across the island in 1204 C.E., and until 1534 the island was part of the Duchy of Naxos. Ottoman Turks overran the island at that time and controlled it for nearly three centuries. Revolt was in the air in 1821, when Greece fought for independence. Ios contributed 24 loaded ships to that effort.

This article discusses more recent changes on the island, changes that I argue are caused by distortions arising from tourism. My observations here are based on my first-hand experience on this island. The island's checkered history surely stems in part from its location at the confluence of the Aegean Sea with the Mediterranean, about equal distance from Athens, Rhodes, and Crete. The island, which covers 108 square kilometers, features 82 kilometers of shoreline and has a permanent population of.iust under 1,700 persons.

The capital city, Hora, rises amphitheater-like above its protected harbor on the one side of the island, while on another side is the port of Gialos, facing the Bay of Ormos. Donkey trails link the two port cities, as well as the Mylopotas Beach. The visitor will see homes that are mostly whitewashed with blue doors and window frames, along many narrow alleys. Chapels are numerous and a 16th-century Byzantine church, Aghios Ioannis, sits 732 meters above sea level, located on the ruins of a temple dedicated to Apollo. Ios received international recognition when Luc Bessons selected it as the setting for the film Big Blue.

Economic Anomaly

Greece does not follow the usual pattern of trading mostly with its near neighbors. Perhaps due to political distortions, Greek firms have typically conducted little business with neighbors in Albania, Bulgaria, Turkey, and the former Yugoslavia. Instead, Greek Ministry of Trade files show that most of the nation's trade is with western Europe, onefourth with Germany and onetenth with Italy.

Greece is also unusual in that it has retained much of its preindustrial infrastructure. Although many highways have been constructed, teams of mules in many cases remain the best way to transport merchandise, particularly along the rock escarpments separating harbors from habitations on Aegean islands. Roads and paths typically follow the contour of the land rather than taking the shortest distance between points. Without highways to concentrate economic activity, many entrepreneurs follow the pattern of locating businesses at their convenience, either in a shop in the village or in the businessperson's residence.

Personal relationships remain important in developing and maintaining business operations in Greek villages, as does extended-family connections. The church is central to the village, and many priests themselves operate small businesses. Trades and businesses have typically been handed down within a family.

Although the nation has been introducing technology in small doses, Greece has maintained a priority on encouraging its artisans to maintain their handicraft skills. The Development Center of Arts and Crafts (KEBA) and the National Organization of Greek Handicrafts (EOEX) were leaders in promoting the crafts of Greek artisans. The foremost organization fulfilling that responsibility now is the Hellenic Organization for Medium- and Small-size Enterprises and Handicrafts (EOMMEX).

Tradition on Ios

The traditional economy of Ios was similar to that of the rest of Greece's islands and villages. The traditional economic unit was the family farm, with agriculture and stock raising being the primary sources of income until the late 1950s. Sheep were important for their wool and meat, while goats provided the key ingredient for feta cheese.

[IMAGE PHOTOGRAPH] Captioned as: The Greek island of los commands a site where the Aegean and Mediterranean seas converge. Shown here is its capital, Hora.

[IMAGE PHOTOGRAPH] Captioned as: Everyday life in los involves a mix of old and new technology, and of old customs and new approaches to making a living. One thing is certain: in a single generation the rapid growth of tourism has accelerated the island's changeover from a farm-based economy to a service economy.

Ios is favored with fertile valleys-Aghia Theodoti, Kambos, Manganari, Mylopotas, and Psathiand the Panokampo Valley in particular is noted for its olive trees and grapevines. Thriving olive trees supported five oil presses, while the grapes provided not only wines as a cash crop but also grape leaves, a critical ingredient in dolomades and other Greek dishes. The island also produced abundant harvests of cotton, which supported a profitable textile factory.

Family farms were able to set terraces on hillsides, allowing some agricultural activity on the hills. The terrace farms are separated by low stone walls known as pezoules. The industrious farmers set beehives in less-fertile areas to produce thyme honey.

With agriculture as the backbone, Ios maintained a classic farm economy. Farm tools were mostly made on the island by an ironmonger, while several millers maintained windmills to grind wheat. The baker paid his staff in kind rather than cash. The wealthiest entrepreneurs on the island probably were the coopers who crafted wine barrels. Thus, wishing a child to become a barrel maker was synonymous with wishing that individual a life of prosperity.

The island also had small-scale mines for extracting emery, marble, pyrites, and sulfur. The mines employed some 80 people until the end of World War II.

To round out the picture of a traditional agrarian village, I should point out that the Orthodox church is a center of culture, and the church encourages the strong ties in family and community that foster business relationships. The islanders celebrate such festivals as the feast of St. John Prodromos, at the Pyrgos Monastery on August 2, and the August 29 festival of Aghios Ioannis, in the village of Psathi, where pilgrims eat meat soup from wooden dishes and then dance all night. September 8 brings festivities all across the island, but particularly at Angian Anargiri church, near Aghia Theodoti, where wine and grilled food are served to all at no charge.

New Arrivals

Although Ios has long been a stop on the trade lanes, the first contemporary tourists arrived in the 1960s, and thereby launched a new industry. The tourists were attracted by the many kilometers of pristine beaches and the turquoise waters. Tourism has since grown to the point that Ios typically welcomes some 15,000 visitors each year, according to the Ios Port Authority.

With tourists came new opportunities for enterprise, but also radical cultural changes. In contrast to the traditional economy that relied on barter and small amounts of cash, tourism involved large sums of money. Local entrepreneurs soon realized that foreigners were accustomed to paying higher prices for commodities than those charged on the island. Although Ios's merchants had long used a cost-plus style of pricing, they became more interested in charging what the market would bear-and found that the tourists would pay high prices.

Those who were first to realize the new opportunities with tourists prospered, and soon others abandoned their traditional labor for the wealth brought by shiploads of visitors. When the islanders shifted to the tourist trade, traditional enterprise began to fade. The factory making eyeglasses, for instance, closed down in the 1960s, as did the textile factory. When the textile factory closed, the demand for cotton dropped, and farmers abandoned their cotton fields in favor of more profitable occupations. Instead of cotton and grapes, the fields sprouted hotels and restaurants. As the farm-based economy deteriorated, the ironmonger found less work and even the coopers were eventually out of business. The collapse of agriculture eventually closed the presses and the mills. Even the kiln that produced whitewash for the houses closed.

Tourism flourishes. The islanders are far from destitute with the changeover in their economy. Tourists visit chiefly from England, France, Germany, Norway, and Sweden. Since 1985 Vangelis Motorbikes has been expanding rental operations on the island and maintains a fully automatic fleet of Japanesemade bikes. Another rental business, Jacob's, rents cars. Donkeys are little seen as beasts of burden, replaced by diesel-powered, air-conditioned tour buses that transport tourists from beach to beach.

[IMAGE PHOTOGRAPH] Captioned as: Mr. and Mrs. Drakos are parents of the "Drakos Twins," Athens-based entrepreneurs who own an Ios hotel, restaurant, and grocery store, and only come to Ios during tourist season. Mr. Drakos is one of the last Ios fisherman.

Leakage. As frequently occurs with international tourism, a fair amount of the inputs to the tourism product are imported, as with the Japanese rental-bike fleet. The Sweet Irish Dream Bar opened in 1986, serving imported drinks to visitors (many of them teenagers). The Seven Eleven Rock Cafe serves Swedish specialties. Club Parachute is advertised as a meeting point for Austrians, and young women on the beach distribute cards proclaiming: "Disco 69: Try It...You'll Love It."

Beer, pizza, and hot dogs are being sold where local wine and kadaifi were once the norm. Not long ago, lamb was the staple meat, but packaged, processed ham is now imported instead. Likewise,jams and juices are now imported to an island where figs, oranges, and pears grew in abundance.

Perhaps the most remarkable import was a curd labeled feta cheese. Developed in Greece, feta is a cheese made from goat's milk, but the tourist trade was supplied with a cow's milk product that was labeled feta and imported from Denmark. That practice ended in 1997, however, when the European Commission declared that only Greek goat cheese could be called feta.

The beaches alone are no longer enough to satisfy the tourists, who are frequently looking for new activities. Thus, Meltemi Company announces "radical watersports action." Wake-boarding, water skiing, and tube rides are now popular in the formerly crystal-clear water. Speedy hydrofoils have also arrived, to the detriment of the Mediterranean sea turtles that attempt to breed on Psathi Beach.

Cultural changes. The new economy has left the island's culture vastly changed in the space of 30 years. Islanders who once fished the waters now eat canned fish from overseas. Baseball caps and wetsuits have replaced Greek fisherman hats. Formerly shy and retiring, the island's young people watched visiting tourists let their hair downgetting drunk, flirting, and sunbathing in the nude. Local teenagers now follow the example set by the visitors. When the sea is dirty, many people escape to overcrowded swimming pools at beach-side hotels and camp grounds. If you visit, note that you must be careful walking on the beach, lest you cut your foot on one of the numerous broken beer bottles.

Where's the Greek?

As inhabitants turned to the tourist trade and away from agriculture, they left their fields to be taken over by weeds. In 1998 just one-fifth of the island was still being cultivated-a contrast to a former time when farmers patiently terraced hillsides. Two-thirds of that cultivated acreage is used for beans, melons, potatoes, and watermelons, and the balance grows fodder for livestock. A few orchards do remain, producing almonds, apples, citrus fruits, figs, peaches, and olives.

But Ios hardly seems like Greece in the summertime. Most people speak English, German, or Swedish. Tourism and tourist-related activities continue to flourish, while culture, tradition, and (to an extent) even language languishes. Thus, one could argue that the island residents are wealthier in monetary terms, but I question whether they and their island remain as rich as they were before the first tourists arrived.

Leo Paul Dana, Ph.D., is deputy director of the MBA program at the School of Accountancy and Business at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore <<>>.

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