Yesterday's inexpensive tourist destinations – Italy, Spain and Greece – are now competing with upstarts like Turkey and North African countries such as Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia.
"It's the economy," reports Michael Romanos, University of Cincinnati professor who has studied tourism around the globe. "The European Union has flattened prices across Europe. It's no longer cheaper to go to Greece than somewhere else. Now, Turkey is cheaper and has great food and landscapes. Turkey and North Africa have the infrastructure for tourism, and that's where the next booms will be."
Which leaves countries like Greece scrambling since so much of the nation's economy now relies on tourism. But that's where a long-term team of UC faculty and students come in. For years now, university planning, business, architecture and science faculty – as well as students – have spent their summers in the Mediterranean, helping municipalities in Crete turn to "smart" tourism Their successes there have all led up to this summer, during which a multi-university team representing schools in Canada and the U.S. – led by Romanos – will seek to transform tourism on an entire island – that of Santorini, an island eight miles in length with about 12,000 year-round residents. The tourism team led by Romanos will work in Santorini from June 14-Aug. 14.
"Tourism of the future is based on economics – where it's cheap to go – leavened by quality of service," explained Romanos, professor of planning in UC's top-ranked College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning. "The tourism cycle in the Greek islands, which began in the 1960s and 1970s, is now winding down. No longer do you have the economic profit you once did even though you still have large numbers of tourists."
In Santorini for instance, cruise ships come each day, depositing an astonishing three million visitors annually. However, while their sheer weight of numbers fouls everything from traffic to beaches, the economic payoff is anything but fair. "Too many visitors come for the day and then return to their ships, injecting too little into the economy for the price the islanders' pay in daily stress and cultural and environmental degradation," stated Romanos.
That's why, after hearing about the UC team's work in other parts of Greece in past years, the island's administration asked university faculty and students to come to Santorini with the goal of overhauling tourism there. The basic plan is to "better the product, better the return and reduce the overall numbers of tourists."
During summer 2005, the UC team and individual members from other schools will focus on the following scenarios:
Wine rather than whine
There are grapes, native to the island, that go back 3,000 years, but they are only known locally. One local wine, Vinsanto, is naturally sweet without any coloring or sugar added. This and other boutique wines could be developed for export and to attract a different tourist type.
In with the old
Promote year-round elder villages via discounts to those over age 65. A major health facility already located in Santorini could not only serve an elderly population on that island but on the 20 or so islands within a half-hour copter ride.
Park it here
The entire island would be designated a Cultural Heritage Park with tourism focusing deliberately on architecture, history, archaeology and agriculture, rather than the waning sun-and-sand recipe popular for so long.
Participants in this summer's Santorini project include 10 UC students as well as one student from Turkey. Faculty team members are:
- Carla Chifos, assistant professor of planning at UC
- David Edelman, director of UC's School of Planning
- Asseem Inam, assistant professor of urban design at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
- Michael Leaf, associate professor at the University of British Columbia
- David Prosperi, professor of planning at Florida Atlantic University
- Michael Romanos, professor of planning at UC
- Frank Wray, associate professor of biology at UC
Past accomplishments by previous UC teams in Greece include the following work on Crete:
- UC students literally blazed a hiking trail between traditional interior villages.
- A traditional goat herding village was helped to stave population drain by taking advantage of dramatically rising meat consumption in Greece.
- In another village, a public square containing two 19th-century schools and a 14th-century Byzantine chapel is being renovated for use by visiting artists and for public events.
- A completely new circulation and transportation system is being implemented in the capital town of Hersonissos.
- A new sewer and water system is being built for two major villages in Crete's interior.