Hotels and tourism providers respond to demand, but cities have a real responsibility to protect their legacies and educate their inhabitants and visitors, as I discovered—again—on a recent visit to Rhodes.
I was all about to write something about overtourism, but saw my colleague Sean McCracken had managed to already put his beach towel out on the poolside sunbed.
Now, I am part of the problem when it comes to this topic. I, too, sit on low-cost airlines and want to visit all the places I’ve marveled at in books. After many years, I have come to realize a very boring conversation is the one in which visitors try and distinguish themselves as travelers and most others as tourists.
Travel is for all, and there is a hotel type and brand to serve them all. Hotels serve demand.
Yes, hotels also can help the overall education process and the improvement of their destinations, but the main point I see is that it comes down to what destinations travelers themselves want, the drive politicians and influencers have to change, and how much they are prepared to educate.
The warning within this is that any well-meaning attempts can come across as elitist and patronizing, but the treasure at the end, as McCracken allured to, is a betterment of understanding and cities that are better to visit and live in.
Resident populations are often shown as biting the hand that feeds them, but really I think all they want, too, is a balance.
I was on holiday in the Dodecanese islands in Greece these last two weeks.
Rhodes Town on its largest island of Rhodes is an amazing UNESCO-listed city with Turkish, Muslim, Knights Hospitaller, Italian and Knights of St. John of Jerusalem influences. But certain portions of it are no-go zones if you wish to avoid restaurant touts, crass advertisement in English and selfie sticks.
Yes, I know, the Snob Alert Warning Mechanism now is screeching.
Any process of re-education will create friction, and most hopefully voters will rule the day, but I have sympathy for those cities trying to do something to create a balance, even if indubitably some of the cities’ plans will price me out.
It is becoming a problem in Europe—Venice, Dubrovnik, Barcelona, Amsterdam, as examples—and probably elsewhere in the world. Maya Beach in Thailand, where the Leonardo DiCaprio movie “The Beach” was filmed, closed on 1 June for four months.
That’s pretty extreme a move, isn’t it? What extreme forces made that decision appear to be unavoidable?
Hoteliers I have spoken to in these cities complain, often vehemently, against the cruise industry, which deposits several thousand people in their markets for a day who spend very little money.
Goals in Rhodes
Rhodes is largely beautiful. (In translation, that means there is some gut-wrenching tourist tat on offer, too.) I make no comment on Light and Sound Shows and 9D (I saw one advertised in Rhodes, but I am not even sure that is possible?) theater extravaganzas, so here is my list of things to savor:
- The garden behind the church of Agios Markos (St. Mark’s) in the Old Town. Originally a church but also once a mosque, it is, I was told, always closed. But a door to one side, when pushed open, reveals a world I had to myself.
- The Nireas and Pizanias (“The Sea Star”) restaurants on what seems to be the last quiet piazza in the Old Town. No music, good, sensibly priced food and a local presence.
- Marco Polo Mansion hotel is a glorious, higgledy-piggledy collection of excellent design, lemon, fig and mandarin trees, wonderful rooms and a notable restaurant that is open to the air and hidden upstairs. The owner is Italian, the buildings have been renovated faithfully in Ottoman style and one can happily here keep the rest of the town far away.
- The world does still contain a few real shops. One is Astero Antiques on Agiou Fanouriou Street. On one side of the street is the shop, but the real jewel is opposite, where the 82-year-old founder repairs, polishes and fixes all manner of lamps, coffeepots, bellows and other gems all salvaged from the numerous abandoned houses around the Dodecanese’s numerous islands, some now uninhabited. (As Agiou Fanouriou takes a slight bend on the way to Marco Polo Mansions, look behind and up at the private house in which are hung numerous Greek musical instruments.)
- It charges entry and has a small gift shop, but Rhodes’ Kahal Shalom Synagogue is a tranquil respite from the heat, albeit with some painful history. It is referred to as the only practicing synagogue in Greece, but I was told by someone there that it does not in fact have a quorum to allow for religious obligations.
- Not everyone’s cup of tea, but the Turkish Cemetery is a lost, marvelous, crumbling world behind a narrow door right behind the beach and the site of the legendary, now-gone Colossus of Rhodes.
- Dating to 1793, the library in the Hafiz Ahmed Agha Mosque is a delight, almost hidden in plain sight off one of Rhodes’ busiest Old Town streets, Sokratous.
- Koukos restaurant serves up a warm welcome and honest fare, and it is in the New Town, which has its moments of charm. There are also rooms above.
In my experience, it is possible to lose yourself in the city’s wonders one block from what I describe above.
It is my suggestion a trip based around all the above will have you wishing to return.
One commentator McCracken spoke to said one solution to overtourism was to staycation; and as my next vacation is to be within my own country, I am feeling better—or perhaps more snobbish—about myself already.
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