Hours after the Greek leftist party Syriza came to power on Jan. 25, U.K. and U.S. press began to wonder whether travelers should think twice before packing their bags and setting off for the striking shores of Greece.
Analysis after analysis, the media, which included the Independent, the Daily Mail, the New York Times, CNN and the Telegraph, among others, assured that tourists coming to Greece will once again get to enjoy the energizing rays of the Greek sun and refreshing waters of the Greek sea and all this at a low cost thanks to the favorable exchange rate.
In the past two decades of Greek greed and foreign interests, massive hotel complexes bullied their way onto our tiny Aegean islands, obliterating unique ecosystems, ravaging beaches, dividing tightly knit communities and serving as eyesores to a landscape that was once harmonious and balanced. The narrow footpaths and trademark architecture of the Greek islands faded into memory as the vast concrete hotel resorts towered over them. In the meantime, hundreds of family-owned businesses had no choice but to go under... and all this in order to offer tourists value for their money.
Syriza's announcement not so long ago that it plans to do away with all-inclusive resorts now has Greece-loving travelers and tour operators up in arms, despite the deputy tourism minister's reassurances last week that the all-inclusive model will simply be fine tuned to benefit local communities.
But is this too just some kind of press hype using the Greek election outcome to take a journalistic jab at Greece, yet again?
Well... why don't we take a closer look at what tourists really love about Greece. Does anyone believe that getting caringly -- albeit by economic choice -- locked up behind the bar(s) of a massive (and in most cases ugly) all-inclusive resort is what made Greece a primary tourist destination the world over in the first place?
Probably not. It most likely was the hospitality of the people who would in the most remote corners of the country eagerly offer their best to the incoming and often happily exhausted tourist who had experienced the raw beauty of a country firsthand.
A case in point: after a strenuous five-hour trek to Crete's Elafonissi in the '80s, when there was no real road leading to this paradise on earth, a black-clad woman living in a hut by the beach offered to take us in and treat us to some small fish sprinkled in sea salt, fried potatoes, a plump red tomato sliced in four and homemade bread right out of a wood-fired oven. We washed every bite down with a sharp shot of intoxicating Cretan spirit tsikoudia and it was bliss.
This, my friends, is what made Greece, one of the most dreamt of spots to holiday... the excitement of an on-the-spot "glenti" when locals would begin to sing a cappella as friends joined in with a battered lyre or guitar in hand.
The exhilarating sight of a horse galloping on a vast beach, its mane blowing in the wind as a flock of unassuming sheep make their appearance on the mountainside their ringing bells announcing their approach.
The smoky aroma of fresh sardines being roasted on a makeshift grill on the port by sunburnt fishermen who have just drawn in their woven nets.
A glass of rose wine during the shearing of the sheep in the remote mountain villages of the country or a beautiful (because beautiful it is) extra virgin olive oil-drenched Greek salad with vegetables straight from the garden and homemade feta cheese accompanied by crispy warm bread.
This is what the traveler to Greece is looking for.
Especially in times when the all-inclusive resort model has stripped countries and destinations of their identity and deprived tourists of the thrill to discover... especially now that the all-inclusive scheme -- strategically making the world all the more generic and at the same time expecting people to be politically correct and tolerate diversity -- now is when we need, as Greeks, to focus on what makes Greece unique.
And yes, it is the humble Greece, the musical Greece, the Greece of hospitality, harmony, warmth and spontaneity.
There is no room for the massive next to the meek. Greece's distinctiveness lies in its small scale of existence. The word "diakopes" (holidays) in Greek means "to stop" -- to leave the quick paced, oblivious-to-everything lifestyle behind and take in the aromas, the air, the sounds, the feeling... to really experience.
Foreign travelers, especially those from the US and many wealthier parts of Europe and the world, have been there, done that. They've seen the big stuff, the huge hotels and adrenalin-boosting casinos, the outrageous pools and the steamy saunas, the luxury offerings and experimental clubs. Whatever Greece does, it cannot and should not compete in this tourist product.
There are those, of course, who will be quick to refute this. What about modernization, they rightfully ask. Well, all this can and has been in many instances achieved today thanks to a new emerging crop of young Greek entrepreneurs, who have taken the wisdom of their parents a step further. These new educated professionals, with research, knowhow and love, are tapping into the potential of their inheritance. Small but carefully set up businesses are emerging across the land, offering the best quality without abusing the environment.
These small-scale businesses, many, family run, can offer the true Greek experience. They can work together with tourism sector professionals to provide holidaymakers to Greece something unique, and this will in turn benefit not only the local community but the country as well.
Greece can stand out by offering what it has been gifted with.
As in all major philosophies, and in life, it is in the end all about returning to the basics. The beauty and lure of Greece all comes down to the basics: sea, sun, hospitality and spontaneity, all embodied in Nikos Kazantzakis' Zorba.
By remaining focused on the small we can achieve great things, as long as we finally work together and take pride in what makes us Greek after all.