Sunset isle Santorini tries to ignore Greek debt crisis

Twenty euros ($26) for a pair of flip-flops, 10 euros for a five-minute taxi ride and store prices that send even locals to Athens. Welcome to Santorini, the island that forgot Greece's economic crisis.

Voted the world's best island by Travel + Leisure magazine in 2011, the Cyclades tourism powerhouse continues to live in an inflation bubble as the rest of the country sees salaries and pensions plummet by up to 40 percent.

The enduring boom is built on money spent by thousands of travellers who flock to Santorini by cruise ship, ferry and plane each day, drawn by the island's whitewashed villages, volcanic beaches and jaw-dropping sunset vistas.

The island was home to a technologically advanced Bronze Age civilisation that was destroyed by a massive volcanic eruption in the 17th century BCE.

The eruption collapsed part of the island, shaping a deep caldera basin and etching steep cliffs that are Santorini's main attractions today, in addition to the quality wines grown on the island's volcanic soil.

The reopening of the archaeological site of Akrotiri, a Bronze Age urban centre that boasted multi-storeyed buildings, magnificent wall paintings and an elaborate drainage system, further boosts the island's appeal.

Nearly 180,000 foreign nationals flew into Santorini last year, up 10.5 percent, and about 80 percent of all visitors are non-Greek, many of them honeymoon travellers and retired couples.

But even visitors with deeper pockets are now starting to chafe.

"I just paid 3.50 euros ($4.60) for a can of Coca-Cola, it's the most expensive I've ever had in my life," protested Denise, a 59-year-old from Rio de Janeiro on a 40-day southern Europe tour with her husband.

The Brazilian couple were fortunate. With the help of a local car rental operator, they secured a small room with a splendid view of the caldera for just 60 euros a night, bargained down from a first asking price of 170 euros.

For most of their seven-day stay, they were the hotel's sole guests.

Online, visitors question the island's luxury accommodation pedigree given the state of many rooms.

"There is no question that the views here are amazing, but this is an unfortunate example of greedy, unprofessional hoteliers jumping on the 'luxury boutique' bandwagon and doing it on the cheap," one traveller wrote on the tripadvisor.com site.

Most of Santorini's hotels are currently near-empty but despite that, a double room with a caldera view can easily cost 300 euros ($395) a night, and suites are often priced at over 700 euros.

Many establishments arbitrarily claim five-star status.

"Santorini has a unique product but it's true that the cost should be linked to the level of service received," noted George Drakopoulos, general manager of the association of Greek tourism enterprises.

He stressed however that "the market has a way of correcting such issues," and added: "Nobody forces people to travel to Santorini."

A souvenir vendor in the island capital of Fira complained meanwhile that "we have to use binoculars to see tourists, they did not even come for the Catholic Easter holiday.

"In previous years we were 60 percent full at this time of year. Now it's down to 20-30 percent," he said.

As for local inhabitants, the minimum salary in Greece has been slashed to under 600 euros and many employees clear less than 1,000 euros a month as the government cuts spending to balance the strained public finances.

Hotel and shop staff on Santorini earn similar wages.

"I make 25 euros a day and I can't afford to give it away for a kilo of meat or a return taxi fare," says Despoina, a hotel worker.

"When I first arrived, I was asked to pay between 300 and 400 euros to rent a room," she said, the equivalent of monthly rent for a flat in Athens.

"I've lived on Santorini for 10 years but I haven't shopped here in three," said a Moldovan shop worker. "I ask friends to bring me stuff from Athens."

Challenged over Santorini's exorbitant prices, many locals shrug.

"We also live in Greece and we too have trouble making ends meet," said a handicraft shop owner.

"It's true that prices should be lower if we are to attract visitors during the crisis," a taxi driver admitted after trying to claim a double fare.

"But we only have five months to earn money for the entire year," she said.

Yiannis Stournaras, general director of the Greek foundation for social and economic research, notes that tourist prices have not dropped as radically as costs for businesses.

"It is a fact that wages go down but prices keep on the same level for the tourists," he told AFP.

"In the case of Santorini, it might be because it is a unique place and the hotel owners don't want to underestimate their product. But it is an issue here -- prices do not adapt and it is not normal," he said.

The union of Santorini hoteliers was not immediately available for comment.

Loading...

Editor’s note:Yahoo Philippines encourages responsible comments that add dimension to the discussion. No bashing or hate speech, please. You can express your opinion without slamming others or making derogatory remarks.

  • Pacquiao pleads for Indonesia to spare death row Filipina
    Pacquiao pleads for Indonesia to spare death row Filipina

    World boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao took time out Monday from final preparations for his $400 million megafight with Floyd Mayweather to plead for the life of a Filipina on death row in Indonesia. Pacquiao, a national hero in the Philippines, added his voice to a chorus of global opposition led by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to the executions of a group of eight foreign drug convicts, including compatriot Mary Jane Veloso. The eight-division world champion, who will face …

  • Thousands beg Australia not to deport autistic Filipino boy
    Thousands beg Australia not to deport autistic Filipino boy

    A 10-year-old autistic Filipino boy made an emotional plea Monday for permission to stay in Australia, as tens of thousands called for him not to be deported despite the potential cost of his condition. Tyrone Sevilla, who arrived in Australia from the Philippines legally as a two-year-old with his mother Maria Sevilla, has written to Immigration Minister Peter Dutton asking to stay. The letter, which reads: "Dear Mr Dutton, can I stay in Australia please... Tyrone," was the first one her son …

  • Indonesia to look into condemned Filipina's case: Philippines
    Indonesia to look into condemned Filipina's case: Philippines

    Indonesian President Joko Widodo is "sympathetic" about the plight of a Filipina facing death for drug trafficking and has promised to look into her case, a spokesman for Philippine President Benigno Aquino said Monday after he made a personal appeal. While the comments seemed to indicate a faint prospect of reprieve for Mary Jane Veloso, the Indonesian leader is seen as extremely unlikely to change course on the executions which he has insisted for months are essential to halting a national …

  • Halt Indonesia drug executions until graft claims probed: Australia
    Halt Indonesia drug executions until graft claims probed: Australia

    Australia urged Indonesia Monday to ensure the trials of two men sentenced to death on drugs charges were corruption free before their executions go ahead, as family members readied to say their last goodbyes. "Bali Nine" drug traffickers Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan could face the firing squad within days, along with others from Brazil, Nigeria, the Philippines and an Indonesian prisoner. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop spoke to her Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi on Sunday evening, …

  • Pacquiao a national symbol of hope in Philippines
    Pacquiao a national symbol of hope in Philippines

    Emmanuel "Manny" Pacquiao is idolised by tens of millions in the poverty-afflicted Philippines both for his punching power and as a national icon of hope after rising from the streets to the pinnacle of world boxing. Known to his countrymen in the Asian archipelago as "The National Fist", Pacman fights undefeated American Floyd Mayweather on May 2 to decide who is the world's best "pound-for-pound" boxer. To most of the Philippines' population of almost 100 million, Pacquiao, winner of an …

  • Indonesia's Jokowi to speak to attorney general about Philippines death row convict
    Indonesia's Jokowi to speak to attorney general about Philippines death row convict

    Indonesia President Joko Widodo will consult with the attorney general on legal issues surrounding the case of death row convict Mary Jane Veloso, the Philippines presidential spokesman said on Monday. The statement came after the Philippines President Benigno Aquino met Widodo at the ASEAN summit in Kuala Lumpur and appealed for "humanitarian consideration" in the case. Widodo was sympathetic and was consulting with the Indonesian attorney general on the legal issues, he said. …

  • Pagasa: Drought may worsen
    Pagasa: Drought may worsen

    The drought in 12 already dry areas in the country is expected to worsen as the summer season peaks next month, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) warned yesterday. In an advisory, PAGASA said the provinces of Albay, Bataan, Batangas, Biliran, Cavite, Cebu, Ilocos Norte, Leyte, Misamis Occidental, Pampanga, Zamboanga del Norte and Zamboanga del Sur will continue to receive “way below” or “below normal” rainfall in May. PAGASA defines …

  • Maximum restraint for Phl troops in West Phl Sea
    Maximum restraint for Phl troops in West Phl Sea

    The military has advised its pilots conducting surveillance in the West Philippine Sea to exercise maximum restraint even if they are being bullied by Chinese troops. Armed Forces spokesman Brig. Gen. Joselito Kakilala said all actions of the pilots should be consistent with the declaration of conduct signed by claimant countries. Armed Forces public affairs chief Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc said the Philippines should remain on moral high ground when it comes to the territorial dispute. A …

POLL

Should Aquino be held accountable over the Mamasapano operations?

Loading...
Poll Choice Options