No violence, no gas shortages, no ferry strikes, no problems. Don’t believe the media and go on vacation. Let me explain.
We all know the power of the news media. Just one news story can lead to a 500% increase in product sales, another can move millions to march on a nation’s capitol, while another can swiftly end a lengthy political career. And the farther we are away from the source of the story, the more we depend on the media for information. That’s what I’d been doing for the last couple years as I continued to postpone a vacation to the Greek islands.
I briefly visited the mainland 15 years ago on a combined trip with Italy, and vowed I would return. It was my instant favorite (it still is), steeped in history, with a stunning landscape, and friendly people. But as I thought about going back, all this was overshadowed by reports of angry violent protesters, transportation strikes, and imminent economic collapse. The media coverage of Greece seen in the States and across Europe (according to the other foreign tourists I met there) has soured traveler opinions of the country, leading to a huge decline in visitors. For a country in which tourism accounts for 18% of GDP and employs one fifth of the workforce, this is only exacerbating the problem.
So I figured what better way to help Greece out of their economic crisis but ignore the media and book a vacation. So I did. What I found was happy welcoming locals, on time ferries, one of the most efficient airports I’ve flown through, and the best vacation I’ve ever had. Every Greek person we spoke to was thankful we’d come. They know how the media coverage has portrayed their country around the world and they blame that coverage for the steady decline in tourists. “Tell your friends to come and not to listen to the newspapers. It is safe here and everything (especially in the islands) is operating fine.” I heard this again and again.
I learned the greatest drop is in the number of Germans visiting the islands. Like the Greeks, the one German couple we met also blamed the media for the decline. They said the intense political tension between the two nations’ governments dominates the press in Germany and that these media reports have left many Germans afraid they will be targets of anger and even violence in Greece. But like us, they didn’t believe the hype and found nothing but smiles and open arms their entire two weeks on the Greek island of Milos.
Of course many of the reports are true – Greece is in economic crisis, there are protests (mostly scheduled and easy to avoid) in Athens, and there is frustration with the Eurozone leaders, especially German Chancellor Angela Merkel. But contrary to other reports, the ferries are running, the locals are welcoming (also to the Germans), the trash is being picked up, the gas stations are open, the islands are safe (safer than Portland, Maine even) and on and on.
So the power of the media kept me away, but my first hand experience will surely lure me back. Perhaps it will be social media that brings back the tourists.
Yamas! (Cheers in Greek)