Greece: Greek island gripped by real estate fever – 04/12/2023 at 18:10

Alix village on the Greek island of Paros on April 6, 2023 (AFP / Louisa GOULIAMAKI )

The early morning sound of drilling echoes through the port of Naousa on the popular Greek island of Paros, where construction is in full swing ahead of the start of the promising tourist season.

In the typical architectural style of the Cyclades archipelago, truckers, workers and engineers are busy at various sites along the main road with whitewashed houses, shutters and doors painted blue, green or rarely red.

Hammer in hand, plumber Nikos Kritikos rips out old sewer pipes from a completely renovated building. Nearby, three men unload boxes of tiles and ceramic slabs from a truck. Extension work to this old house has made it possible to add three rooms for rent.

“It’s crazy, the opening of the season is approaching, everyone is repairing, painting (…) to be on time,” says this craftsman from the island.

Opposite, a complex with a swimming pool and rooms belonging to a real estate fund is emerging from the ground, “proof of a staggering turn of foreign money”, promises, carefully, this fifty-year-old.

– “All for profit” –

After two years affected by the pandemic, the surge in tourism last year – 27.8 million visitors (+89.3% in one year) according to figures from the Bank of Greece – inspires hope.

A hotel construction site in Naoussa, Paros island on April 6, 2023 (AFP / Louisa GOULIAMAKI)

According to Yannis Retzos, head of the Union of Tourism Operators, tourism receipts should reach the level of at least this year 2022 (17.6 billion euros), and “according to the most optimistic scenario, more than 2019” (18.1 billion euros). .

“The tourist season will be better this year,” predicted Barros Mayor Marcos Covaios.

Last summer, he says, the island’s population (15,000 people in normal times) multiplied by five.

Greece, hit hard by the financial crisis, relies heavily on the traditional engines of the country’s economy, such as construction and tourism, to drive growth. Tourism accounts for nearly one-fourth of GDP.

Construction works are underway in the village of Lefkes on the island of Paros on April 6, 2023 (AFP / Louisa GOULIAMAKI)

Along the winding road that connects Naoussa with the traditional villages of Lefkada or Marpissa, construction sites, tourist complexes, luxurious villas with swimming pools and underground shelters follow one another, some hidden in ravines.

“All for profit, no limits”, exasperated Kostantis Haniotis, at his cafe in Lefkas, complaining of rising prices due to “overexploitation of tourism”.

– relaxation –

The town hall of Sifnos, another island in the Cyclades, has warned of the “uncontrolled growth” of tourism, calling for measures such as banning swimming pools, the daily Kathimerini reported.

The low stone walls still bear witness to the terraced cultivation that once prevailed on the island, on hills covered with flowering shrubs that contrast with the blue of the sky and the Aegean Sea. Today, there are only a few olive groves and vineyards, and fishing is practiced mainly for gastronomic purposes.

“In the 1990s, every family built a house for the children (…) and now we don’t stop building for tourists,” laments Nikos Kritikos.

Tourists visit the island of Paros, Greece, on April 6, 2023 (AFP / Louisa GOULIAMAKI )

Artisan fears that Paros will become more fashionable and like neighboring Mykonos, which offers luxury holidays and attracts the international jet set.

In early March, a violent attack by unidentified men on an archaeologist in charge of inspecting building permits in Mykonos caused an outcry. The attack, described by authorities as a “mafia” attack, exposed long-standing irregularities in the construction industry, a problem in Greece.

In the process, conservative Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis tightened restrictions on Mykonos, campaigning for May 21 legislative elections.

On Wednesday, seven people were arrested in Mykonos for “urban planning offences”, the environment ministry said in a statement.

Panagiotis Galanis, a lawyer specializing in planning law, points out that “as tourism has become a heavy industry in the country, the authorities are often lax for economic reasons.”

However, Burroughs Mayor assures that restrictions have been intensified this year.

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