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Tourism blow for Lesbos

GREECE: When a sea of humanity landed on their island’s rocky shores last year, the people of Lesbos turned out with blankets and hot food to help thousands of refugees emerging from the cold waters of the Aegean.

immigration, tourism,


Sunday 31 July 2016, 03:00PM

Hotel operators on the island of Lesbos say only one in 10 rooms is occupied and tourism business is down 64 per cent compared to last June. Photo: Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP
Hotel operators on the island of Lesbos say only one in 10 rooms is occupied and tourism business is down 64 per cent compared to last June. Photo: Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP

In the months that followed, Lesbos’ citizens were hailed for their compassionate response by everyone from Pope Francis to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Queen Rania of Jordan and Angelina Jolie.

But praise from such global luminaries has not helped restore the island’s tourist trade, with many foreign visitors seemingly put off by the migrant influx.

“We were bracing for a difficult season after the migrant crisis but it’s even worse than we could imagine,” said Marilena Gourgoutzi, staring at the empty tables in her restaurant in the normally bustling port village of Molyvos.

Hotel operators say that only one in 10 rooms is occupied and tourism business is down 64 per cent compared to last June, according to the local chamber of commerce.

“It’s unfair,” said chamber chairman Vangelis Myrsinias.

“All those who thanked the inhabitants of Lesbos for lending a helping hand to the refugees should visit our island,” he added.

Over 800,000 refugees and migrants, mainly from war-torn Syria but also Iraq and Afghanistan, passed through Lesbos last year en route to northern Europe.

Hotel owner Theodoros Vathis, 74, remembers days when 400 people would arrive at once, and he would help drive entire families to a registering centre in his van.

“At the time there were no aid groups present, we were the ones to give them clothes and food,” he said.

A deal between the EU and Turkey in March drastically reduced the flow to a few dozen arrivals daily, but the damage was already done.

Faced with Europe’s greatest migration challenge since World War II, several EU countries opted to shut their borders to migrants early this year, trapping over 57,000 people in Greece.


Images of beaches littered with discarded life jackets and torn dinghies, though no longer accurate, continue to hurt the island’s image, said Gourgoutzi, the restaurant owner.

“Foreign clients tell me that certain news outlets are still showing last year’s footage with drowned migrants, and dirty beaches which have now been cleaned up,” she said.

Island mayor Spyros Galinos said that charter arrivals fell from 27 to just nine per week, and that despite crisis-management efforts, summer season arrivals were expected to drop to 80,000 from 120,000 previously on average.

Instead of Germans, Britons and Dutch, Lesbos had hoped at least to fall back on visitors from neighbouring Turkey, even for short three-day trips.

But the failed July 15 coup against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan changed that too.

As Turkish authorities began a purge in search of the plotters, over 10,000 people have been detained, thousands more have had their jobs suspended, a state of emergency has been imposed and annual leave for civil servants has been cancelled.

“Two weeks ago we were full of Turks for the end of Ramadan,” said Gourgoutzi.

“But after the recent events there has been a clear drop,” she added.

Jeweller Yiorgos Frangoulis last year offered a cut of his earnings to aid groups helping to bring succour to refugees. This year, he says he’ll donate the money to organisations helping poor Greeks.

“It’s the fault of our government which allowed such a great number of migrants to arrive in Greece but at the same time increased taxes,” says Vathis, the hotel owner.

“And it’s also the fault of journalists – Greek and foreign – who only broadcast images of misery from Lesbos,” he says.  



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yvonne | 20 August 2016 - 13:47:26

Thailand and everyone in thailand that is involved in tourism one way or the other should take note.This Is what will/can  happen, when good law abiding tourists ( some returning year after year for decades already)stop coming to thailand.!SO,look after the goose that lays the golden egg, first and foremost and their safety and not just your pockets. They have a choice where to go for their holidays and in whose pockets and which countries they will put their money. Take your tourist industry for granted  at your own peril !

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Christy Sweet | 01 August 2016 - 11:14:30

And I was about to castigate the editorial team for the demeaning slang reference to lesbianism. Nevermind. 

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yvonne | 31 July 2016 - 17:25:29

THEY are suffering all because of MERKEL of Germany and her GENEROUS open invitation to MILLIONS of UNSUITABLE people int EU with a totally different Medieval Culture/Traditions/Mentalities that are NOT compatible with WESTERN CULTURE at
all,to flock to EU,even without FIRST consulting other EU Countries and THEIR  Citizens.90% of them are NOT even so called "Asylum Seekers or Refugees".Amongst them hundreds of
FANATICAL Bombers and Killers. SHE admitted they do not know WHO they let in.Europe has been ruined forever.Too late to close the stable door now,the horse has bolted.Greece already with Greeks without food,jobs,lost their homes, were severly suffering,had to further bear the BRUNT of her invited "Guests" and took another MASSIVE knock and recovery(if at all!)will take decades not a few years. At least those left behind in Greece now, do not want to stay in Greece but also get to EUROPE.Greece is now too poor to meet THEIR DEMANDS.So hopefully for Greece,they will leave at the first opportunity.They are after the BENEFITS,FREE EVERYTHING! Free accommodation(of their choice to-otherwise they complain)FREE MEALS( THEIR choice,for their culture 
mind you!)free schooling where they are children involved 
and grants for each child,(minority with children,over80% MAJORITY of YOUNG HEALTHY MEN)Free Medical,POCKET money 
allowance DAILY.! and an EASY Life BUT have the audacity it
must be always on THEIR TERMS .THEY and their CULTURE must 
be catered for.THEIR demands accommodated, all times by the true blood Citizens of the Countries in EUROPE and Scandinavia whilst they stroll around like TOURISTS on a
totally FULLY PAID Holiday by Taxpayers,others causing Havoc
daily and then off course,the Murdering Killer Jihadists that used the gap to enter,amongst them.Just returned from a
few days in Greece and then went to visit friends in Germany. Will certainly visit Greek Islands where there are NO So called "Refugees", BUT Will NOT be back to CERTAIN Countries in EUROPE any time soon or maybe never,depends if the others start deporting or how this will pan out there.TOO RISKY at moment,not pleasant anymore AND to be on full alert,unrelaxed when on holiday,worried where/when is next attack is Not On. A lot of EU is Spoilt,possibly ruined forever.Feel very sorry for the suffering Greek People.This
is what we experienced in our very recent 3 weeks Greece/ 
Europe Holiday amongst the Local Citizens and what they
are starting to MOBILIZE against with this Invasion.

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slippery snake | 31 July 2016 - 16:08:52

Just ask Hillary Clinton to take a few 100 thousand more into America, that will solve your refuge problem.  
 But really you need to send this to her or America will have the same problems if she wins the election..  As she doesn't have a clue !  on anything !!!  

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